Kitchen culture has captured the American public’s attention in recent years with the explosion of celebrity chefs, various reality shows featuring said chefs, and dedicated cable channels like the Food Network. All of this media attention has made consumers much more knowledgeable and very curious about the inner workings of a restaurant’s kitchen.
More and more restaurants have responded to this trend by opening up their kitchens and bringing elements of the food preparation process to the table. Customers love the show, and it reflects well on your service and atmosphere to bring the prep to the front of the house. If done well, making food preparation public connects with customers your menu and adds a showy aura to your dining room.
“Open” kitchens, designed to allow customers a full view of the cooking going on before their meal comes, has become ever more popular in independent restaurants and national chains alike. But the fastest growing trend, especially in the fine dining segment, is tableside prep – serving up specific appetizers, sauces, and even entrees right in front of the customer.
Some tips for bringing the back of your house to the front:
Start with good ingredients. The fastest way to turn patrons off is to have a bunch of wilted greens or mushy looking fruit before you even start. Ultra fresh, vibrantly colored ingredients are key to the success of any tableside performance. You’ll need to plan with your food suppliers and tweak your recipes before starting to make sure only the best ingredients make it out of your walk-in.
Appearances are everything. Just like with ingredients, the entire process, whether in an open kitchen or tableside, is under the intense scrutiny of your customer. That means every last detail must be addressed – from dingy utensils and dishware to the grease collection on the side of your fry pan, make sure any tool you use to prep food in public is either brand new or looks like it is.
Appearances also apply to your staff. Anybody who is even remotely close to food and ingredients you’re preparing in public must be spotlessly clean. The bar goes up when people can actually see who is preparing their food.
If it’s not a show, don’t bother. As those reality TV shows about cooking have shown, culinary excellence can be a spectacle. If you’re not going to make this entertaining, there’s no point in going through all the trouble to institute tableside prep in your restaurant.
The good news is that some very simple tricks can make the whole thing seem pretty spectacular to your customers. Fancy turner or tong tosses, elaborate pouring methods for sauce ingredients, and quick chopping or cutting jazzes up the process and really adds to the entertainment value. Get creative with the process and delight your customers with a show.
Tableside food prep is a great way to make your restaurant unique and give your servers a chance to shine for the customers. With a little preparation and an eye for the showy, any restaurateur can turn their kitchen into a main attraction for guests.