Ringing in the New Year is as much about self-improvement as intoxication, singing Auld Lang Syne, and extravagant meals (though, sadly for restaurants, most of the top New Year's resolutions seem to revolve around eating and drinking less). For chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists, and sommeliers, it's also an opportunity to rethink culinary philosophies, menus, and business strategies. After all, this is hardly an industry known for resting on its laurels.
We decided to query one growing restaurant market in particular, Philadelphia, to see what they want to do better in 2013. Whether it's improving connections with farmers, hunkering down to train staff, or even seating fewer covers to improve food quality, the culinary world is chock full of forward-thinkers and those constantly reinventing themselves. This past year was a revolutionary one for the restaurant world in many ways, and 2013 is sure to bring an even greater batch of change. So be sure to tell us (in the comments below) your own regrets, resolves, remembrances, and resolutions.
Chef-owner Andrew Wood, Russet
Kristin (my wife, partner, and pastry chef) and I discussed it, and our resolution for the restaurant for next year is to take time to visit all of our growers, ranchers, and fishermen. We strive to have personal relationships with all the people involved in producing our food, but we'd like to take the next step and see our ingredients' lives before they reach our doorstep. Anything that helps us to stay connected with the food we serve can only make the restaurant a better place.
Beverage Manager Al Sotack, Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co., Lemon Hill
My New Year's resolution for all things bar-related actually has to do with all stuff I do outside of the bar. My goal is to up my organizational game. This year I was introduced to the exciting migraine that is Microsoft Excel and there's no going back. As I moved up to a director-level position at the company this year, I've taken on a lot more of the costing and efficiency responsibility. My hope is to do the same thing with all the educational services we try to provide within the company. Hopefully at the end of the next year I will have the geekiest cocktail/spirit guide and Excel sheets in the world. And trust me when I say that these inclinations at organization do not come naturally to me. I'm a bit of a hurricane (at home, not behind the bar).
Wine Director Michael McCaulley, Tria
I'd like to think our greatest strength at Tria is staff training and education. It's why we go to work every day. Our goal is to inspire our stellar staff through an impassioned immersion in real wine, cheese, and beer so that they in turn can go on to spread the good word to our gracious guests. But it's expensive as hell to train the staff well, let's be honest. As hard economic times fell upon the service industry this year and it seemed a new restaurant closed every day, training is an area we looked at possibly cutting. Was it really worth all the effort? Did the guests really give a shit? As my doubts surrounding staff training and the bottom line lingered and increased, Tria was suddenly nominated for Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly 2012" for wait service. Eventually our little corner bar Tria won out against some of the city's higher-end, big boy restaurants. Lesson learned—service does matter. So for 2013 we are not cutting a damn penny from our training program. In fact, we're working to make it bigger, better, and more bad ass. Happy New Year!
Chef Chip Roman, Blackfish
We would like to do fewer covers and take more time to make everything perfect, although all the ducks have to be lined up.
Chef-owner Michael Santoro, The Mildred
The thing most we would like to do here at The Mildred is begin our R&D program. We have been talking about how we are going to develop the food in a more consistent fashion, and setting aside the time in the business of the restaurant world is a challenge in itself. However, if our restaurant is going to have serious staying power and growth, a hard-core, systematic approach to the food is necessary.
Chef-owner Kevin Sbraga, Sbraga
My resolution for 2013 is to grow my team. I want my cooks to start thinking like chefs. Just being a good cook is not good enough anymore. You have to be able develop and conceive dishes, be a team player, be a team leader, think about costs and expenses, and keep in mind we only do what we do because of our guests. When I decide to expand I want to always be able to hire from within because I have cooks that are ready to become chefs. My biggest mistake was not to follow my own intuition. There were some decisions that I made because I second-guessed myself or listened to someone else.
Chef Ben Puchowitz, Matyson
Due to the circumstances in which I became head chef, I never got the opportunity to travel and learn from the great culinary brains out there. Unfortunately, with the upcoming opening of my new restaurant, it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon. But I'm going to try my hardest to find the time to do some staging once things settle down. It is integral to my growth as a chef.
Chef Peter Woolsey, Bistrot La Minette
My resolution this year is to replace and upgrade any of my under-performing kitchen equipment. I am essentially replacing the line and I have even gone as far as to give away two ranges and a convection oven to a worthy restaurant start up (still to be determined).