How to Maximize Consistency in Your Restaurant (Part 1)

I have been around the bar and restaurant industry for most of my life. My dad opened a sports bar/restaurant when I was 12. And I have worked for over a dozen restaurants and bars.

For the past 6 months, I traveled around the country interviewing some of the best minds in the hospitality industry to understand what they have done to be successful in one of the most challenging and competitive industries in America.

And here's what I found…

Every successful restaurant is as good on Tuesday as they are on Saturday. They are consistent. And this is true whether the Executive Chef is on the line as the expo, is working the room and taking pictures with guests, or is at home with his wife and children.

If a restaurant is going to succeed, it must be consistently great.

"You are only as good as your last meal," – Zack Bruell, Executive Chef/Owner of five restaurants

How do great restaurants maintain consistency in their food? Different restaurants have difference strategies. What strategy you use depends on what type of chef/owner you want to be.

Here are four strategies that successful restaurants use to maintain consistency in their food:

1. Do it Yourself

Three of the best meals I ate when travelling around the country interviewing chefs and restaurants owners were in restaurants where the executive chef did the majority of the cooking.

The Lark is the finest restaurant in the Detroit area. Chef John Sommerville has been at The Lark for 10 years, was on the television show Top Chef, and has earned two James Beard Nominations for Best Chef. He oversees and controls everything that comes out of that kitchen.

When I asked him how he consistently puts out such amazing food, he said, "I am doing the cooking. I know how to cook everything, and I cook as much of it as I can. What I can't do myself, I carefully observe."

He doesn't just cook the expensive proteins, he is involved in every aspect of the kitchen. Chef John preps during the day with the rest of his team, and he even helps take the garbage out at night.

The Lark delivers amazing food every time because Chef John is cooking most of it.

The best meal I had in Colorado was at Bittersweet, run and owned by Chef Olav Peterson. The first year he opened he was ranked the #11 Restaurant in Denver. The next year he was #5. And his plates were, by far, the most beautiful plates in the state.

Chef Olav is on that line every night. He does most of the plating, and looks over everything before it goes out.

He also controls the wine menu. He hates buttery chardonnays, for example, and refuses to put them on his menu. He also hates cooking the same thing all the time. He removed an award-winning clam chowder dish because he was tired of making it.

Chef Olav controls everything in his restaurant, both food and beverage. By doing that, he has created an amazing dining experience and one of the best restaurants in Denver.

In Chicago, one of the most prestigious restaurants is Les Nomades. The servers wear tuxedos, the bussers are cleanly shaven with fresh haircuts, and the food is spectacular. It is classical French cuisine cooked by a real Frenchman who marches around Napoleon.

Chef Roland is 5'2 and has a commanding presence. He answered every question I asked with authority and impatience…because I was taking him away from the kitchen.

Every morning Chef Roland goes to the farmers market to get the best produce. And every day he is prepping the food with his staff. And during service, he is on the line.

He cooks as much of it as he can to ensure that everything comes out perfectly. And everyone in his kitchen is a serious student of the culinary arts. They aren't there to make money, they are there to learn.

These three amazing restaurants produce consistently excellent meals because the chef is there cooking and overseeing the kitchen.

2. Train and Trust Others

Thomas Keller was out one Saturday night. Someone came up to him and asked, "Chef, if you are here, who is cooking at your restaurant?"

"The same people who cook when I'm at my restaurant," replied Chef Keller.

With four restaurants, two of which are in the top 10 in the country, Chef Thomas Keller certainly could not do all the cooking himself. He had to train his staff to cook the way he wanted them to, and trust that they would do it in his absence.

I met with James Beard Award Winner Chef Colby Garrelts and his wife Megan from Bluestem in Kansas City. A little over a year ago the Garrelts opened a second restaurant, Rye, specializing in fried chicken and beer.

To grow beyond Bluestem, they had to be able to step off the line and start running their businesses, not just cooking the food.

When I asked them how they did that, they had one word for me, "Trust."

You train your team as best as you can, and you trust that they will do it right.

Chef Andrea Frizzi is the chef/owner of Il Posto, rated as one of the best restaurants in Colorado. He does almost none of the cooking, and he knows that every night, the food will be great.

And the menu changes every night!!!

Chef Andrea has trained his staff very well, and he trusts their judgment. He understands that his employees want to be able to express themselves creatively in their craft, and that is what they do.

He lets his sous chef Mario, and his other line cooks, design the menu every day.

Because his staff has such autonomy in what they cook, he has very little turnover.

So every day Chef Andrea is at the door greeting guests and managing the floor. Meanwhile, his kitchen staff writes the menu, cooks the food, and plates the food, and Chef Andrea knows it will come out beautifully because he trained them well and he trusts them.

In fact, he trusts his staff so much that he felt comfortable leaving the country for two weeks.

Training your staff well and trusting that they will do a great job is how the busy restaurant owner is able to gain more free time and more autonomy.

If you are a control freak and absolutely must have contact with your restaurants all the time, I have a solution for you.

Zack Bruell owns five restaurants in Cleveland, including L'Albatross…rated as one of Cleveland's finest restaurants.

Zack visits each of his restaurants every day. And every time he walks in, he adjusts the lights to exactly where he wants them to be. He is that controlling.

And it would be impossible for him to do all of the cooking.

So how does he maintain consistency in his five kitchens?

He gets his culinary team to take responsibility for what they are making. Zack understands people's need for autonomy, and he gives it to them.

He allows his chefs to come up with their own specials, and even allows the line cooks to come up with dishes.

He doesn't micro-manage. He teaches them "The Zack Bruell Way," and trusts that they will do it that way.

Chef Zack wants his team to work hard, and he leads by example. Every night he is on the line as the expo at one of his restaurants.

If you want to be able to grow past having just one restaurant, you need to be able to train your staff well and trust in them.

(to be continued)

Author: Robert Love 

Retrieved from:

Date of published: Oct 28, 2015


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