Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve… these are the days that really test a restaurant’s staff. Is your mise actually, really, and truly en place? Being ready for New Year’s Eve, like just about everything else in the restaurant business, starts with careful menu planning. Having a menu that sets you up for success will ensure the night runs smoothly, make sure everyone has a good time, and bring in great sales to end the year.
- Start early! You’ll need plenty of time to plan marketing, print menus, and get in any special ingredients or supplies. Your menu should be in place at least 2 months in advance of the big night.
- Prix fixe or not prix fixe? There are many good arguments for having a prix fixe menu. It simplifies the experience for everyone when there are very few choices. It’s easy for the servers to take orders and it’s easy for the kitchen to cook a limited number of dishes. A good prix fixe menu can keep your kitchen running smoothly under the enormous pressure of a big night like New Year’s Eve. A prix fixe menu can also help you increase your check average. Accommodating allergies or picky guests can throw a wrench in the system though, so be ready if you get a lot of that in your dining room.
- Consider your capabilities. What can your staff handle? And what do you have the space and equipment for? Plan how each item will flow through your kitchen and how long it will take. Some of your guests may have other plans after dinner and won’t wait 20 minutes for your signature chocolate soufflé. If you add a prix fixe menu or a whole slew of specials, consider limiting your other offerings so that you don’t overload your kitchen and bog down the whole night.
- Plan dishes that will have great food cost and control the amount of waste. Make sure you have a way to use leftover ingredients that aren’t sold. You won’t make money on that lobster if any of it ends up in the dumpster.
- Know your guests. Hopefully your regulars will come out and celebrate with you, but you’re also likely to get guests who don’t eat out eat very often. Your menu should cater to the people who know you and love you AND the people who are trying you out for the first time. I always put grilled beef heart salad on my Valentine’s Day menus, but somehow the romaine salad with ranch dressing outsells the salad every year.
- Think about drinks. Bubbles are a great way to start or end a New Year’s Eve dinner, but special cocktails are still very trendy and may produce a better profit margin. If you are doing a special menu, consider planning a beverage pairing for each course. This is an easy upsell for servers to make because everybody is out to have a good time.
January can be brutally slow in the restaurant business, so make sure you fill up your bank account when you can. Make hay when the sun shine, sell sparkling rosé to everyone who dines.