Restaurant Ettiquette: Closing Time

(December 11)

Before I ever set foot in Paris, I had learned from watching various films that there are two types of people; those who prefer to walk the streets of Paris in the rain and those who prefer the streets while dry while dry. While I find myself on team rainy-Paris (yes, I am a romantic), I found that I most enjoyed Paris at night, walking back to our Airbnb after dinner and watching the restaurant workers stacking the patio tables and chairs and sweeping the sidewalks while their last table finished their espressos. Continue reading

Hospitality @ Home: Buffet Set Up

With Turkey Day around the corner, here are some things to help you serve up your buffet with ease and style.

1. How many people will be at your party? More than 10 people, and you’ll want to be sure that you set your buffet so it can operate from both sides. For small gatherings “buffets” can be set on your stovetop in covered pots so that hot food can keep warm over a low flame, with plates and cutlery on a nearby countertop.

2. Do dishes need to stay hot? You can keep dishes warm by placing hot food on hot plates and keeping them covered. Soups and melty dips can be set in fondue pots over a sterno flame, or in crockpots to keep warm. Get your surge protector on and be sure to tape or otherwise secure loose cords so guests don’t trip over them.

3. Consider the silverware. If you are placing the silverware on the buffet, place it at the front of the buffet, rolled tightly in a roll up that can easily be held or even tucked in a pocket. But if it is possible, it is more efficient to pre-set the cutlery and napkins at individual seats at the non-buffet tables.

4. Consider the sauces. Place saucers beside serving dishes as a landing spot for spoons/ servingware so the tablecloth does not become covered in food debris.

5. Prevent traffic jams. Place canapes and beverages at different locations (if you have the room) to prevent bottlenecks. At a bare minimum, set your beverages on a separate table across the room from the food.

6. Be cagey. If you are on a budget, place plentiful, less expensive dishes at the beginning of the buffet and the more expensive, scarcer items at the end. As in, put your dinner rolls, and mashed potatoes at the beginning, the steak and shrimp at the end.

7. Be fancy. Create levels. By skewering meatballs or other small bites with bamboo sticks, or placing dishes with a low profile (like cut sushi rolls, tortillas, cookies) on literal pedestals. If you don’t have a plethora of cake stands, you can create levels by placing plates on overturned teacups or mason jars. Or if that’s not your aesthetic, you can place a row of sturdy boxes down the center of your buffet table, cover them with linens and tuck your serving plates around and on top of them. If you want to be extra opulent, you can fill the space between the plates with seasonal fruits, vegetables, and sturdy kale leaves to completely cover the fabric components, creating a “cascading cornucopia” effect.

Restaurant 101: Planning a Party Out

when planning a private party at a restaurant, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Know your budget. You can have a fabulous Bridal shower or 60th Birthday celebration at any budget. Establishing your budget up front will save you a lot of time with venues, because it allows them to give you the best options within your budget. Beware of the old ‘champagne tastes on a beer budget’ trope, though. If you have a tight budget, don’t approach the most expensive restaurant in town for a Saturday night reservation and expect to talk them down. You will be wasting everyone’s time. It’s not a very enjoyable party if you have to watch the bottom line of the check the whole time to ensure you don’t go over budget. Set your budget first. Then pursue options that fit.

2. Know your guest count. Even if your guest count is only a ballpark, have a reasonably good idea of how many people you are hoping to entertain. Some restaurants have several options for parties of various sizes and if you book a room for 30, but in the end will have 45 guests, this may change things considerably.

3. Set a menu. Set menus are designed to speed the service of large parties and prevent long waits for food. Frequently they are multi-coursed affairs not to gouge you, but to ensure that there is food on the table while the entrees are being cooked. Before you set a menu, ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies that need to be accomodated to ensure that there is an option for them on the menu. Though, generally, it is a good idea to have at least one option that is vegan and/or gluten-free on your menu in order to be safe.

3. Pick a beverage package. Beverage packages are designed to prevent sticker shock at the end of your party by enabling you to plan in advance for how much your party will cost. They are not designed to gouge you. If you don’t want to spring for a full blown bar package, most restaurants are happy to run a tab on-consumption and cut it off when a certain pre-determined limit is met– i.e. “Guests can order whatever they want, but can you let me know when it hits $500 so I can cut it off then?” It behooves you, also, to specify if you would prefer tap or bottled water for the party at this time, as well. As if you prefer bottled, you’ll want to ensure that the restaurant has plenty on hand.

4. Ask about restrictions on decorations, times, etc. Restaurants love to celebrate your milestones with you; it is big part of our business! But if you plan to decorate the private room for your party, check with the venue to ensure there are not restrictions. This is not a scenario where it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, as there may be restrictions due the historic nature of some buildings. It is not sexy to talk about, but there are also places where decor cannot be placed because it would impede people escaping the building if there is an emergency like a fire or an earthquake. If you intend to decorate, find out how soon before your party you can arrive to decorate, and also find out if there is a certain time that your party is required to clear the space. Especially during the busy holiday and wedding seasons, there may be other events in the wings waiting for their party in the same space.

5. Don’t move the furniture, or the lights, or adjust the sound system, or the thermostat yourself; ask a staff member. The staff of the restaurant is there to assist you. That is a large part of their job. But they are also responsible for navigating several overlapping systems that operate within the restaurant space. The thermostat you see on the wall may actually be tied to the vents in the kitchen and by adjusting it you could very well be roasting the chefs. What looks like one light switch could actually be daisy-chained to lights in other parts of the restaurant that you cannot see. Furniture placed by the staff is placed in accordance with fire exits and egress for service, and if anything needs to be moved, the staff is more familiar with the weight and dimensions of each piece of furniture and less likely to be injured in it’s moving.

6. Manage your guests. Usually, no food will come from the kitchen until the chef has the whole order from the party in her hand. So if you have hungry guests, encourage everyone to sit down and let the servers know their selections. If you need help communicating to your guests, you can always request that the service staff help you usher guests to their seats with a gentle The host has requested that everyone be seated to place their orders.

7. Set it and forget it. Order all courses at the same time. The staff will organize the timing of the courses based on the pace of your party.

8. If you plan to give toasts or speeches, let the staff know ahead of time, so they can time the courses accordingly. Try to time your toasts or speeches between the courses. Generally, between entrees and desserts are a good time, as you can be secure in the knowledge that your guests won’t be slowly starving while Uncle Owen expounds on his blessings for the guest of honor.

Hospitality @ Home: Picking a potluck dish

It’s the season for cookouts, and if you are anything like me, you cannot go to someone’s house without bringing something to contribute. But what to bring?

Here are a couple of tips for potluck and cookout dishes:

1Bring a dish that you know is delicious. Even if,  when you ask the host what you can bring, you end up with a course you don’t immediately have a dish for (salad duty when you are a baker at heart, or vice versa), don’t just wing it. Ask friends for a surefire, vetted recipe (you can hardly go wrong with anything from Cooks Illustrated or Serious Eats), or order something from a local bakery or beloved restaurant that you know is great. It doesn’t matter if a potluck dish is made by your own hands, so long as some level of care went into it’s preparation and it is tasty. Sometimes, the best thing to make is a to-go order. And that’s ok.

2Bring serving utensils for your dish. You can tie your utensils to your casserole dish with a length of twine, but don’t try to serve a tray of macaroni with a flimsy single use picnic fork. It will only end in tears, and potentially in white plastic shrapnel invading your lovely casserole.

3Bring something that can sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. If it is over 75 degrees, avoid anything with mayonnaise or shellfish or both. Alternately, you can sub vegan mayonnaise or pesto on pretty much any sandwich preparation where regular egg-based mayo gives you pause.

4Avoid icings that can melt. Like whipped cream or light butter creams. If possible, avoid icings at all if the event is outside, as they mostly serve to attract bees and wasps. But if you must use a butter cream, be sure to stiffen it with lots of confectioner’s sugar. The greater the sugar to butter ratio, the less likely it is to melt.

5When in doubt, bring beverages. Wine, beer, Sangria, a big old batch of pre-mixed margaritas. Vodka watermelon. Or go teetotal with a nice sweet tea, lemonade, or fruity minty, virgin bramble.

Here are some ideas for great Potluck/ cookout dishes that are more creative than a casserole—

Kale Salad : https://wherethesideworkends.com/2013/05/08/hospitality-home-kale-salad/#more-914

Greek salad: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/greek-salad-105279

Ribs: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/06/oven-barbecue-bbq-ribs-recipe.html

Pan Bagnat: https://food52.com/recipes/6896-pan-bagnat-le-french-tuna-salad-sandwich

Pressed sandwiches of any kind, like a Mufaletta

Brownies, blondes, cookies, hand pies

Pasta Salad: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/06/how-to-make-the-best-pasta-salad.html

Sangria: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2010/12/13/hospitality-home-holiday-sangrias/

Margaritas: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2012/05/25/hospitality-home-batch-margaritas/

Fresh fruit lemonade: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2012/06/21/more-than-you-ever-wished-to-know-about-lemonade/

Restaurant 101: Holiday Party Survival Tips

Judging by the number of revelers I have in my restaurant right now– this is THE WEEK of company holiday parties.

Here are a few tips from the inside to help you make it through unscathed (and without scathing any of the staff):

  • 1. Check out the menu before you arrive: Most any restaurant is going to require a party of 20 or more guests to choose a set menu. Try to get a gander at the menu from your office party planner in advance if you can.  In addition to helping you figure out how flush your company coffers are (hint: Lobster= $$$, chicken everything = get your resume ready), you can figure out if you have any allergies that need to be addressed.
  • 2. Discuss Allergies in Advance: If you have serious allergies that you are not sure can be accommodated by the menu you’ve just spied, call the restaurant so we can make a plan in advance. NOTE: This is only for serious allergies. If you just don’t like onions, that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you are seriously allergic to chiles, and going to a mexican restaurant, please call us in advance so we can make a dish that suits your needs. We want you to enjoy your party as much as everyone else!
  • 3. Stick to the menu: Trying to order something that is not on your party’s pre-selected menu only delays your service. And by your service, that means potentially the service of your entire party. If you’d checked the menu in advance, and called the restaurant with any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then we would already have a dish for you…..
  • 4. The coffee is trying to tell you something: When the coffee comes out, that means the bar is closing, the check is dropping, and you should probably start searching your pockets for your parking ticket. Sometimes your host has set a pre-determined end time for the party for budget reasons, and sometimes the restaurant is just closing soon….. If you realize after the coffee cups are empty that you are the only people still in the restaurant, then the polite thing to do is get ready to go. If every 3 minutes a different staff member buzzes by your table to ask if they can “get anything else for you?” then it is really time to take the hint so the bus boys can move all the tables back and get out in time to catch the last train home.
  • 5. Share: You may be in a party of 50, but you are probably not the only party in the restaurant at any given time. Understand that there are other guests, not only in the restaurant, but also in your party.  Avoid bottle-necking with your buddies in major thoroughfares. Not only is this greatly appreciated by the staff, it also decreases the chances that you’ll wind up with a manhattan or a lobster thermidor spilled on your Santa sweater. Pay attention to the pacing of the party, too, so that you don’t delay service for your whole group.
  • 6. Order early: If your party has a coursed menu with a choice of entree for each guest, be ready to order by the end of your cocktail hour. The chef is going to pace your experience off of this order. Typically, the last round of appetizers won’t come out of the kitchen until the chef has the entree order in his hand. Otherwise, the wait between courses would be too long. If the staff comes around to advise the party-goers that the host “requests everyone to find their seats, we’ll take the order in a moment,” don’t be the lone group of holdouts snickering at the corner of the bar. The entree order isn’t going to go the kitchen until it is complete. So you are delaying the revelry of all of your office mates. Understand, also,  that any additional requests you make of the servers while they are taking the order (another glass of wine, a new napkin) are not going to happen until the order is complete.
  • 7. Don’t be afraid to call the restaurant: The best source of information for parking, directions, ingredients in certain dishes, etc, is the restaurant. Don’t be afraid to call us, that’s what we’re here for.

And, if you are trying to book a party at the last minute (because someone in the corner office forgot about Chrstmachanakwanzakah until today)—- Be Flexible. It’s the busiest week of the year for most restaurants, but if you can be flexible on your time frame, we can usually find a way to help you have an awesome party.

These are the decorations in my building. They look disappointed in all of us.