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Letter From the Editor Vol.7

Holidays: The Revenue Myth

November 2006

The holiday season is the most food-centric time of the year. For two celebratory months all diets are out the window as the entire country indulges in travel and eating to excess with family and friends. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year—unless you’re a chef. Chefs dread the holidays like a looming HACCP inspection. Why?

Front of house is tempted to overbook and as the parties grow larger and larger, set menus with predictable options of Turkey or Goose and Apple Cobbler or Pumpkin Pie take over. Set menus tend to make for a lot of extra ordering and prep. While the extra-long hours deteriorate the morale of cooks unable to go home for the holiday, guests’ tensions rise. When it comes to the dishes themselves, nostalgia rules and even the most adventurous fine diners who might normally go for barnacles, yearn for classic roasts and hearty pies—this is not the time for fussy dining and experimentation. It’s no wonder that for chefs, whose families wait up for them at home as they work through one special day after another, the magic of the season is thoroughly drained.

So why bother? Chefs are used to working hard while the rest of the country gets time-off. Holidays for most professionals mean longer, busier nights in the restaurant industry but more importantly, profit. Restaurants are businesses after all, and revenue is the bottom line. Holidays, with their set menus and high alcohol orders bring in a lot of revenue in a short amount of time. In our Culinary Trends Survey chefs cite New Year’s Eve as the most lucrative holiday of the year, second only to Mother’s Day.

Only 11 percent of our readers cite the more family-oriented days of Christmas and Thanksgiving as their biggest money-making days. Families like to camp out for a long meal as they would do at home, meaning tables aren’t turning as fast as they should be. And try telling a ten-top on Christmas Eve that they need to clear out by 9 for the next party.

Of course not every restaurant has the luxury to shut down, even for a day. For small restaurants dependent on the extra revenue they anticipate at the end of the year, closing is simply not an option. In the case of Chef Kate Rench of Café Diva in Steamboat Springs, the restaurant relies on the seasonal tourism brought in by Colorado’s Winter sports and holidays and she welcomes the challenge. To prepare for that upcoming turkey delivery, check out Kate’s advice and recipes in Turkey Tips.

For hotel restaurants, the rules are similarly fixed. A hotel is under obligation to its in-house guests who come to be relieved of holiday-related stress. Guests who stay at hotels rely on their decorations, friendly staff and holiday dinners to make them feel at home. Peter Timmins is Executive Chef of The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia where their "Winter Wonderland" theme brings in guests year after year piano concerts, horse drawn sleigh rides through the snow, themed ice-carvings, and dinner and dance evenings. Timmins recently hosted the 3rd Annual Club Chef’s Institute. The three days of workshops from the proper use of a Thermo-Circulator to experimenting with hydrocolloids are recapped with recipes in our upcoming CCI coverage.

While the kitchen is definitively tough and it’s common knowledge that chefs work hard year-round, the holidays are no doubt the roughest time of the year to be in the business and not necessarily the most profitable. Finding a suitable balance between making ends meet and keeping cooks happy can be tricky, so from everyone at StarChefs we wish you the best of luck as you prep for the holidays!

Antoinette Bruno




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