Ask The Trendspotters
Issue No.3
Dishing Up Holiday Cheer

I'Tis the season to build and improve customer relationships while spreading holiday cheer.

Preparing the season's freshest and best selections in exciting ways, and showing diners that you care that they've chosen to dine at your establishment obviously can solidify lasting customer relationships at any time, but never more so than during the holidays.

The latest economic reports are showing improved consumer confidence and although this is welcome news -- especially for the foodservice industry -- a lingering sense of uncertainty may continue for some time. Historically, most successful restaurateurs have learned that in leaner times, trying harder can lead to doing better in the long run.

This year especially, you might want to consider creating specially priced menus, highlighting exceptional seasonal menu offerings, and aiming higher with intangibles that improve the bottom line -- a more welcoming ambience, improved service, and increased customer appreciation.

The take-home message is that paying attention to the basics counts more than usual. That's because whether you're serving guests a pizza and beer, or a complex, seven-course menu paired with the finest wines, you're providing much more than food and drink. You're selling perceived value -- especially in terms of attentiveness and creativity.


During tighter times, many customers expect more than ever in exchange for their dining dollars. But even with limited budgets and a lot of choices, they'll remember a great meal. So if you make sure that everything is top quality and well executed, they'll return.

Throughout this busy season, many managers take time to focus staff with quick training reviews and added encouragement. They make sure everyone understands and appreciates his or her part in providing pleasurable, restorative (the essence, after all, of the word "restaurant") dining experiences. In fact, this is exactly what guests are looking for when they dine out -- the food, the place, and its people should provide them both a haven from stress and a bounty of pleasure, especially during this special season of giving.

The Trendspotters checked around and found that especially in today's market, pricing is a key measure of value. Chef David Féau of New York City's Lutéce is offering his current prix fixe three-course dinner menu at $59 -- twenty dollars less than just a few months ago. Diners can order from the main menu their choice of appetizer, main course, and dessert, but will pay a supplement for some signature dishes such as Féau's renowned foie gras in chocolate sauce with bitter orange marmalade. Since once they're in the restaurant, diners tend to buy up -- tempted by offerings that aren't on the fixed menu -- sales even out while customer patronage holds.

Taking another tack, Daniel Patterson, chef-owner of restaurant Elisabeth Daniel in San Francisco, has adjusted the number of courses of his prix fixe menu since two years ago when it originally listed six courses for $77. It now features five courses for $70. Despite the Bay Area lagging the rest of the country in rate of economic recovery, Patterson says December and January are two of the restaurant's busiest months, with excellent bookings due, in part, to holiday parties.

December and holiday menus at Elisabeth Daniel will highlight such specialties as diver scallops from Maine, spiny lobster, wild mushrooms, and truffles. Current offerings include chanterelles with lentils and a green peppercorn emulsion; duck breast with baby bok choy, black "forbidden" rice and lapsang souchong infusion; ragout of prawns and wild mushrooms seasoned with ginger. A delicious seasonal finish is chilled rosemary-scented pear soup with pear and huckleberry sorbets.

To assure repeat visits to Martini House, their newest restaurant in St. Helena in California's Napa Valley, restaurant designer Pat Kuleto and partner Chef Todd Humphries' menus change daily so they can provide the highest quality products attainable.

Recent holiday season offerings at Martini House have included cream of chanterelle soup with Hobbs smoked bacon, French-Canadian foie gras with coriander-macerated raisins and golden raisin sauce, and pan-roasted Millbrook (New York) venison served with a leek-turnip gratin.

In some areas where weather slows business during the winter months, it may make sense to give something extra. A small suburban Italian restaurant we know often surprises customers with a complementary glass of Marsala at the end of their meal. By serving a small glass, they keep the cost low, which is more than offset by increased dessert orders to accompany the after dinner bonus. Customers also appreciate and remember their host's warmth and generosity.

Many high-end restaurants customarily serve chocolate truffles and/or tiny fresh-baked cookies on a separate plate along with coffee, or before the check, even if diners don't order dessert. The message sent is the same: thank you for coming.

Decorating them with Christmas accents, or with silver non-pareils or on a plate with candy confetti for New Year's -- along with a genuine wish for the happiest of holidays -- might be one way to show your appreciation and build customer loyalty.

By keeping customer satisfaction at the forefront and serving extra holiday cheer with every cover, you and your staff will be sure to enjoy the holiday bustle, as well as plenty of repeat business throughout the coming year.

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