The holiday season is one of the busiest times of year for chef Simone Ferrara of Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island. The hotel has two restaurants, One Bellevue, which does a special holiday menu, and Top of Newport Bar and Kitchen. Ferrara is the chef de cuisine and estimates that he and his team will serve 400 covers between both restaurants and the to-go orders that they offer for guests who want to enjoy their meals at home. This year, the team has decided to serve a holiday buffet, holiday prix fixe, to-go orders, and in-room dining. It’s a big undertaking — but chef Ferrara is happy to do it. “We’re very proud to serve people who want to spend their holidays with us and all of our staff,” he says.
For many restaurants, the holiday buffet poses a lot of specific challenges. What dishes should be included? How can you be sure that your kitchen is ready and equipped to handle refreshing dishes? What do you do with leftover product? Chef Ferrara talked to us about how he plans holiday menus and the advice he has for other chefs on how to avoid the pitfalls of planning and executing a holiday buffet.
To start, chefs need to think about when planning a buffet is cost, Ferrara says. “The first thing we did was we costed all of the menu items for our buffet and prix-fixe,” he says. That allowed him to understand which dishes on the buffet spread are the most expensive and what items are the least expensive. Then he could lay them out in a way that made sense for his bottom line. For example, sea salt-crusted prime rib is served on an action station because it’s easier to control the cost of it if staff is designating the portions instead of guests serving themselves. Sides, like mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables, have a lower food cost so guests can help themselves.
Creating a menu that blends the classic dishes that guests expect while still incorporating some unique touches was a bit of a challenge. “The way that we do that is we narrow down the classics and add a twist,” he says. “Like our sweet potatoes that get torched on top to add a bit of crunch.” The menu also differentiates itself from other holiday offerings by including dishes that speak to the restaurant’s New England locale. “We offer our lobster ravioli and other seafood items because we have great local seafood,” Ferrara says. He also thinks about his buffet spread and if it can be enjoyed by all kinds of guests. “I think about dietary restrictions a lot when planning,” he says. “Are there vegan and gluten-free items that guests can enjoy?” Making sure that these options are available means that there’s everyone has a good experience.
Being organized through menu planning, ordering, prepping, and executing is vital, Ferrara adds. He prints out prep sheets for each day of service so that he and his team can stay on top of it for the buffet. Printing them also gives him a list to cross-check at the end of shift to make sure that everything is on point. Running a service that will do 400 covers requires him to keep track of a lot of different orders and prep lists. “It’s all about organization,” he says. “Make sure your teams reacts well and knows what they’re expected to do.” [Read more…]
For most every restaurant, the next few weeks will be by far the busiest of the entire year. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, it’s likely the time when you make the majority of your revenue.
But with more business, and more people coming through the door, the biggest challenge is always staffing: how to hire holiday staff, how to manage staff vacations, and how to deal with staffing emergencies right in the middle of service. These are all problems most every restaurant has to contend with as soon as the holiday season rolls around. We rounded up step-by-step holiday staffing tips for restaurant operators from top restaurants across the country to help you have the smoothest holiday season possible.
At the Chicago steakhouse institution, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, general manager Max Maxwell says planning for the holidays begins being strategic about the staff you hire. “We try to diversify, so we don’t have to turn around in September and hire 10 people who will be let go in January when it gets quieter,” he says. His staff comprises some full-time employees, as well as part-time folks looking to pick up extra cash during the holidays. “That way we have people who only work banquets, some servers who only work two days a week. We aren’t working anyone to death.”
This also means setting expectations for staff up front. Because the holidays are the busiest time of the year for restaurants, it’s important to tell people when you hire them that you expect them to work during the holidays. “I always ask people, ‘Do you like the holidays?’ and if they say yes, I am like, ‘This may not be the job for you,’” says Maxwell.
“It’s about building loyalty all year long, not just pleading with your staff at the end of the year to do their best,” says David Massoni, a partner in the Three Kings Restaurant Group. Be flexible with your staff about vacation during the year, and they’ll be more willing to step up during the holidays. “We have so many front-of-house staffers who are following other dreams and passions, so we want to give them the opportunities to go on auditions or do stand-up nights.”
As Arjun Meherish, managing partner for Morph Hospitality Group in Nashville puts it, “If you are accommodating and nice to your staff, they will be accommodating when it comes to your needs. It’s about making sure they love what they do — and love you for what you do for them.”
Most restaurants interviewed advised starting to plan for the holidays, staffing-wise, as early as you can. This involves coming up with numbers for how much of each type of staff (bussers, servers, etc.) that you will need during the holiday season, making hires, training, and establishing a schedule.
According to Maxwell, “If you are training a server, it really takes them about two good months to start hitting their stride with regard to service standards and the culture of your restaurant. People need to figure out what it’s like working at your specific volume.”
Massoni’s strategy is to put a holiday schedule up as far in advance as possible, giving staffers the opportunity to trade shifts to suit their own personal plans. “Maybe for one waiter, it’s important to celebrate Thanksgiving, but for another, Christmas is when they have plans. It puts the power in their hands.”
Meherish keeps it even simpler: he tells people that they can either have Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or New Years’ Day off, and they sign up for their preference. “Our staff is happier that way because they get a day off, but they still know they will be making money during the holidays.”
And make sure, too, that there are days when everyone has off. For Lawry’s, it’s Christmas Eve, since New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving are the busiest days. For Ivy Tsang, co-founder of Nickel & Diner in New York, this is New Year’s Day and Christmas Day. Choose the days off that are right for your business.
Given the stress that the holidays put on your staff, it’s not a bad idea to hire a few extra people, just for the season. Tsang suggests making those hires bussers, servers, and bar staff. With bussers and servers, she says, “It guarantees you smooth service and that everything gets to the table at the right time. It’s important to leave a really good impression on your guests because this is when a lot of new customers are coming along. It’s worth the extra labor costs.”
She also invests in a lead bartender who can curate a cocktail list and a beverage director who can promote the wine program. This is because people are typically more interested in ordering alcohol during the holidays, so it’s important to make sure your options are on point. “People really want great wine pairings, a good glass of bubbly. It’s a celebratory time.” [Read more…]
Some of the busiest dining months are ahead, but restaurateurs understand that you can never be busy enough. To help you and your staff attract and serve more guests, we’ve created ‘Recipes for Holiday Success,’ a free e-book chock full of tips to make this your most successful season yet.
From working with social media influencers and using data to configure your books to accommodate as many diners as possible to marketing your private dining space and how to set the table for success for next year, these best practices and insights will guide you through the season.
With 2016 coming to a close, we at OpenTable hope you and your teams have enjoyed a busy season of full, festive dining rooms! We are wishing everyone health, happiness and further success in the new year to come. Below is a full list of our top holiday-themed articles, or you can click here to see them all. Here’s to 2017!
When Guests Start Booking Holiday Events (It’s Earlier Than You Think!): Back in September, we looked at data from 2015 to see the trends and patterns around holiday events: when diners (and party planners) start shopping, where there’s the highest demand, and more. Read on for a deeper dive on the data.
How to Beat the Stress of Seasonal Hiring: While it’s tempting to hire any warm body willing to peel carrots or run plates, being deliberate and strategic about who you bring on (and when) can be the key to a successful season. Here, Culinary Agents Founder and CEO Alice Cheng shares the number one secret to hiring for the holidays, plus tips for pulling it off.
Should You Stay Open for the Holidays?: Plenty of restaurants are on the fence when it comes to staying open on the holidays themselves. Is the demand really there from diners? In a word, yes — here’s the data to back it up.
Thanksgiving Service: How To Keep Your Guests (and Staff!) Happy on Turkey Day: Successfully executing Thanksgiving service at a restaurant requires planning ahead, keeping your staff happy, and going the extra mile to ensure guests are getting the warmest and most hospitable experience possible. We asked chefs from across the country what they’ve learned doing Thanksgiving service—here are their best tips.
Holiday Catering: 9 Tips to Help You Plan, Delight & Thrive During the Biggest Months of the Year: Holiday catering is logistically difficult, but the challenges are not insurmountable. With a little bit of advance planning, you can become a consistently great catering partner, and build lifelong customers. Just follow these tips for success.
4 Holiday Promotions That Worked — And Why: Coming up with a special promotion or event during the holidays is a great way to bring in more revenue and to translate people into lifelong customers. Take a look at four holiday promotions we loved, why they worked, and how you can make the most of your own seasonal campaign.
How to Prevent Holiday Burnout: All of the festivities, celebrations, and general busy-ness around the holidays can quickly turn into burnout for restaurant employees. Here, the team at USHG’s Marta and Maialino shares how managers can work with their teams to prevent burnout this holiday season — and what to do if you see it coming on.
How Not to Surprise Diners with a Prix Fixe Menu: Many of the negative reviews we see on holidays are from guests who had no idea that when they booked a table at a restaurant, they were opting in to a prix fixe menu they hadn’t seen. Here are a few places to advertise a special holiday menu so your guests are delighted, not dismayed.
A First Timers’ Guide to New Year’s Eve Service: If you’re a restaurant trying out a special New Year’s dinner for the first time, the prospect of satisfying customers’ high hopes can be daunting. We spoke to some of our favorite New Year’s Eve restaurant vets on what they’ve learned doing NYE service over the years, and how any restaurant can make its version a success.
Watch: How to Saber a Champagne Bottle:Want to make a splash on New Year’s Eve? Saber a bottle of bubbly. Nothing rings in a new year quite like Champagne, loud cheers, and the suggestion of a little danger.We asked one sommelier to show us how to saber like a pro (and, of course, safely). Watch the video!