Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2011: March 1st

Thanks for reading along in my journey to record what happens during a year at my restaurant. I post on the first and fifteenth of the month and you can find the entire series using the 2011 tag. This is the post for the period from February 16th to March 1st, 2011.

Spring is definitely coming and I am really excited! I can tell because it is no longer dark when we open for dinner at 5pm and the sun is riding higher in our south-facing windows as it makes its trip from left to right across the dining room. And I can tell because Beth has supplied us with the first gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and rapini of the year. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is, after having worked with little other than root vegetables—no matter how delicious—all winter, to finally, finally, finally have something beautiful and green to work with. And out on the deck, our chives and Sweet Williams are up, teasing us with memories of the beautiful blossoms that went onto our plates last year. I posted a photo of the chives earlier today, so excited was I to finally see some tangible evidence of spring.

Yet another sign of spring is that Yellow Perch are starting their spawning runs from the Chesapeake Bay up into the creeks. We put the perch on the menu this weekend and because they are so small, we had to serve them headed and gutted, on the backbone. Customers in general hate the idea of bones in fish and so the perch haven't sold well. It's a shame really because not only are these little local fish very tasty, but they have better flavor and texture when cooked on the bone. The local fishery seems to be well managed and to help keep it that way, I always insist on getting the whole fish with their tags to ensure that they have been legally harvested. No harvest tag, no buy.

After having our worst month ever in the history of the restaurant in January, business was up significantly over last year in February, probably as a result of the unseasonably warm and nice weather and lack of snow. It really is quite amazing how much impact weather has on this business.

After talking about the need for revamping the lunch menu for at least the last couple of updates, we finally got around to it. We killed one pasta dish because it was not selling. Although it was a staff favorite, customers did not order it. We have two hypotheses, the first being that it had a red sauce and customers go to Italian restaurants if they want red sauce. The second hypothesis is that it was just too healthy in comparison to the other pastas that are loaded with cream. Although customers say they want to eat healthy, we can see from our sales numbers that they gravitate to the less healthy dishes, given a choice.

But bottom line, who knows why this pasta didn't sell? In this business, you get used to it. Things that you expect to sell do not, and dishes you think will be sleepers sometimes take off. Still, we like to do the post mortem on failed dishes to help us understand where our menu needs to go.

And we reformulated two dishes in this menu revision. We have had a Grilled Portabella Sandwich on the menu for years, and although its devotees rave about how much they like it, it never has sold well enough to justify its place on the menu. We are guessing that the word "sandwich" is the deal killer. There are at least ten sandwich shops within two blocks of the restaurant and customers likely do not come here for sandwiches. So all the things that used to go into a sandwich—grilled portabellas, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, arugula, and goat cheese—now go into a salad.

The other dish we revised was our fish tacos, which are loved by everyone who orders them. And even though we do sell a lot, we noticed that nobody was eating the corn tortillas on which we served the fish: we, and I suspect most restaurants, check what goes into the trash cans. So we did an informal dining room survey. Half say they don't like corn tortillas and half say that tacos are too messy to eat. So, we have reformulated the dish as a fish taco salad in which the tortillas are cut into strips and deep fried. That should eliminate both objections. Time will tell.

Now that the spring cleaning is done on the menu, we are working on both the wine list and the dining room. It is wine portfolio tasting season for the next 8-10 weeks. All our distributors will be holding big tastings so that we restaurants can gather ideas for our winelists. Most restaurants refurbish their wine lists to bring on summer patio wines in the May time frame and we're no exception. I know of 8 of these tastings over the next few weeks and I will probably attend four or five. Other vendors do the same thing. This time of year there are numerous kitchenware, tabletop, and food shows, all competing for our time. Although they can be a pain to attend, they are valuable events at which to see new ideas.

And speaking of new ideas, the dining room is getting a makeover. It has already started, in fact, with a bit of reorganization and removal of clutter. Although the changes are already very noticeable, they are nothing compared to what the end result will be in a few months. We will make the changes as we go, without closing. The dining room is already less ponderous and a good bit lighter in feeling. It really is amazing what just a few small tweaks can do. The current decor is about five years old; it is high time for a change. I'm really looking forward to the makeover. It will feel like a totally different restaurant.

My cooking classes start tomorrow and I am looking forward to teaching them. I relish any excuse to get out of the restaurant (the classes are being held in a friend's catering kitchen) and I love to work with people on cooking. More news on the classes in my next post on the 15th. Until then, thanks once again for reading along.

No comments:

Post a Comment