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On site hands on consulting to the small hotels of Costa Rica – 3 steps over time to significantly impact your current food service:
- through training of existing staff and implementing new techniques
- to provide a significantly better guest experience
- with improved ratings for the hotel
- and improved profitability for your restaurant
Do any of these keep you awake in the "temporada baja":
- Do you worry your restaurant is a cost center not a profit center?
- Do you wonder how it is possible that a perfectly wonderful vegetable picked this morning exits your kitchen this evening as "something else"?
- Are you not getting any GREAT (I do not mean good) reviews for your food service on TripAdvisor?
- Are you STILL hoping your head cook would come up with SOMETHING new for the 4 repeat guests who stayed 5 nights?
- Are your pigs eating too well?
THE CHALLENGE OF RUNNING A SMALL HOTEL RESTAURANT
We have over 15 years of experience creating the finest dinners possible in a small hotel in Costa Rica. This has provided us insight into how to run small kitchens in Costa Rica whilst maintaining high levels of profitability and a wonderful guest food experience.
FROMMER'S 2017 GUIDEBOOK ONLINE: ". . . Nhi is an amazing chef specializing in Asian cuisine, but her dinner menus range far and wide to almost universal acclaim."
One of the primary reasons guests stay or come back to the Pura Vida Hotel in Alajuela is our food service. Food is our focus and everything else follows from there. Our dinner service is based on the limitations of the small hotel whilst creating beautiful presentation of local foods, cooked lightly to retain their correct texture and flavors. At the Pura Vida we worked on a formula where dinner service is a balanced 3 course dinner with each course designed to both compliment and support the food that precedes or follows it.
We would like to bring some of these food ideas to your restaurant. You can choose which.
Where possible we use all fresh foods including meats, poultry, fish, veggies – and always we try to buy locally and develop local suppliers who understand the quality we require. The end result is a healthy dinner always presented beautifully using complementary plating and delivered to the guest professionally.
Wrapping around the food is the presentation of the table and the restaurant itself as well as how food is delivered and cleared.
Before all that can happen, a menu must be prepared for the day and the correct produce acquired. Before the dinner can be served the guests need an explanation of the service that night to prepare their taste buds and to ensure we are taking care of any special food needs or restrictions –this part of food service is often overlooked yet is critical to the enjoyment of the dinner service.
At the Pura Vida we have had many interesting side effects of our cuisine, such as:
- serving chicken dishes to starving vegetarians coming back from a week of bad food service in the jungle
- small children who never eat mushrooms cleaning off their plate to the amazement of their mothers
- blue cheese to adults who swore it was something they would never have tried
- guests who swore our trout was the best fish they ever ate in their lives though they NEVER eat trout
Your trainer is Chef Nhi Chu – co-owner and chef at the Pura Vida Hotel. Starting in 2011, Nhi was responsible for the menu, kitchen staff hiring and training as well as the development of the Mekong Asia Fusion restaurant – a high end Asia fusion restaurant in Costa Rica. In 3 months from the public opening, Mekong Asia Fusion rose to #1 on TripAdvisor ratings for best restaurant in Escazu. Her partner Berni is also co-owner of the Pura Vida Hotel, helped design the Mekong Asia Fusion restaurant, the menu and the wine and cocktails list and manages the Pura Vida restaurant.
We suggest 3 phases to move your existing restaurant 3 steps above today – you decide how far you want to go do 1,2 or all 3 steps.
From our reviews this year:
- "the food, oh the food, fantastic at night at the Pura Vida"
- "we stayed here again and had the dinner which was awesome. It was some curry chicken with stir-fried vegetables - it really tasted like a home-cooked meal (staying with mom)."
- "dinners are the best I have had in Costa Rica and some of the best I have had anywhere in my travels."
- "a memorable meal presented just to you."
- "the meals are second to none, every time I stay at the Pura Vida I am served fabulous food prepared with the freshest ingredients."
- "a wonderful restaurant (one of the best meals of our vacation)"
- "an incredible chef, excellent wine cellar too."
- "we were provided a late-night cheese and vegetable platter upon arrival (prepared by people who know food, so don't think American cheese and a couple carrots)"
- "the food made you want to stay a long time and just enjoy the gourmet food and presentation."
FIRST STEP: TUNE UP YOUR EXISTING MENUS AND RESTAURANT STAFF
At the end of this FIRST STEP your staff will understand they have been the beneficiary of professional kitchen training, they will have learned a number of new techniques in food prep and cooking methods as well as food handling and hygiene processes.
- the idea is to take a number of dishes from your existing repertoire and teach your existing staff how to take the exact same dish and make it 100% better – new food prep, a new presentation, new cooking methods etc.
PROCESS: The restaurant/hotel schedules a visit any time during low season for 5 or 6 nights. The restaurant hotel owner/restaurant manager is interviewed by phone to determine the existing menus and if possible existing recipes. You provide us a list of staff, your assessment of their strengths, the dishes you'd like to improve the most beforehand.
The first day we visit your restaurant and eat as a guest and taste your target dishes you want to improve.
We visit with the kitchen staff for 1 or 2 days during prep and service to observe processes, methods, preparation etc. In particular we are assessing the skill sets of the staff. From this we will then create recipes and the reworked dishes to best meet the current staff skills as well as availability of local produce/suppliers etc.
The next 2 nights we will work side by side with the kitchen staff with selected dishes with new food preparation, some new cooking methods and presentation. We suggest working on no more than 6 dishes (2 first, 2 second courses and 2 third courses). A number of techniques the staff will learn will be helpful in other dishes after we leave. We will also assist the restaurant in suggestions for table layout, décor, plate service, guest interaction etc – if you wish we can also comment and suggest on drinks/wine service etc. All of this can be done alongside existing food service as the restaurant operates. We suggest this process be done at quieter occupancy and the staff be prepared to work a few extra hours.
We suggest a return visit in about 1 month for 2 days to refresh the kitchen/restaurant staff on techniques, review progress and see if there is a desire to take the restaurant further.
THE COST OF STEP 1: Expenses to and from the hotel and lodging plus daily rate while on site. Total time needed 5 to 6 days on site over 2 visits 1 month apart.
SECOND STEP – THEME YOUR MENU TO YOUR HOTEL AND INCREASE FOOD SERVICE PROFITABILITY
This will have more impact on your existing staff as well as teach
- more new techniques and
- new recipes they will need to learn
We expect you will have already done Phase 1 above and will have now a semi-skilled crew with some basic capabilities and a lot more happy guests. We will look at existing menus or current repertoires to see how first courses compliment the main course, look at balance of ingredients for more healthy dishes and suggest ways to increase the offering of the restaurant. We will also consider the essential issues of yield, dish costing and ways to increase the profitability of the restaurant. If guests are leaving food (we also want to observe plate returns) they are not fully enjoying their food. Or if you are throwing away waste veggies or proteins you are not buying well or need better planning or perhaps you can better manage the guest ordering e.g. too many options on the menu. We will suggest ways of adding to the existing menu as well as dishes that can be dispensed with due to profitability, popularity, food trends etc.
The goal of this second phase is to create a better theme for the restaurant and to increase the profitability of your food service while developing your staff further.
PROCESS: We assume we will have already done Phase 1 above. If not we will do a condensed version of it first phase to ensure we understand the capabilities of the existing kitchen personnel and the current quality of the dishes offered.
We will spend one to two days "one on one" with the owner/manager to understand local produce/availability as well as owners' goals for the restaurant. If there is any restaurant data – sales/costing etc we will review this. If there is very little data we will come up with some parameters for the existing food service. We will look at and evaluate with the manager all existing dishes as well as current issues with each dish. This phase does require the restaurant to have documented each recipe before we arrive so we can examine each dish better. A rudimentary recipe and a tasting is needed for each dish we need to look at.
We will then suggest additions and deletions to existing menus – and reach agreement on the changes. The next 3 to 5 days we will work along with your restaurant staff to introduce some new prep methods, look at food labeling/storage, some new cooking techniques and the new dishes which establish the theme of the restaurant or hotel or location. The owner/manager will then taste and bless the new dishes – we suggest we can introduce, train and execute up to 6 new dishes in 3 days. This will be very dependent on the quality of your existing personnel as well as the involvement of management to make sure the changes stick. All of this can be done alongside existing food service as the restaurant operates – if you want to do this we suggest it be done at quieter occupancy and the staff be prepared to work a few extra hours.
We will then spend 2 more days looking at profitability optimization, removal of existing dishes, improving the wine list and other ways to increase profitability – in particular existing pricing, price sensitivity, unbundling of items, package pricing, alternate revenue streams from the restaurant (e.g. packaged meals for tours, lunch service etc). We will also suggest new ways to present the menus although we will not be doing menu design etc. We will work with you to set a target cost for your restaurant for the future.
We recommend a follow up within a month where we spend 2 days at your hotel/restaurant tweaking the recipes, evaluating profitability goals and working with the owner/manager to help them assess success as well as to review with them the progress of their staff.
THE COST OF STEP 2: Expenses to and from the hotel and lodging plus a daily rate while on site. Total time needed 7 to 11 days on site spread over 2 visits.
- For this phase we will look carefully at your neighborhood, your produce availability and the goals of the hotel to find ways to make your menus compliment your hotel and your personal goals. For example a yoga retreat will likely focus on showcasing vegetarian specialties – we would create a signature dish for the hotel that will be well reviewed and will help attract new guests of similar likes. Or a "ranch" style hotel might have a barbeque dish as a signature. A beach hotel would have a fish specialty etc. Or if there is some produce grown at the hotel we will create a dish or dishes to highlight this element. And if you are a part time farmer are you really showcasing "farm to table"?
- How does your food service link to your guest experience?
THIRD STEP – TWEAK, IMPROVE, MOVE IT UP A NOTCH IN PROFITABILITY, TECHNIQUES, SERVICE
This is a visit to follow up on what has been learned and tweak EVERYTHING in the kitchen/restaurant - this is a tweak for both
- and management
We will also assist with discussions and/or demos on areas such as purchasing, storage to reduce waste, optimization of prep time to cooking time, improved presentation, restaurant service etc. The idea is to make sure previous ideas have stuck and to see areas where we can make easy improvements thinking about taste, presentation and most importantly profitability. Optionally we can also evaluate staff and spend extra time with issues they are still not working with well.
The staff should see this as a further improvement in their personal skills and their cooking repertoire at "Your Restaurant University". Your crew will have improved many skills and reached a level of professionalism not usually found in the neighborhood. They will have accomplished dishes and techniques found only in the finest restaurants in the world.
Our idea is exemplified by the Casado served at the Four Seasons Papagayo. At your local soda, you will find a perfectly acceptable chicken casado for 2800 colones. At the Four Seasons they serve something entirely different made from almost the exact same ingredients for 10,000 colones. They do have a nice description: Traditional Casado - "Cubaces", Arracache Picadillo, White Rice, Fried Plantain, Criolla Salad and Corn Tortillas. The result: happier guests and improved profitability.
We will also look at ways to increase your Tripadvisor reviews based on the new restaurant experience as well as how you present your restaurant services ahead of the guest visit through website, social media and email.
PROCESS: This is a return visit of 2 to 3 days fixing up techniques and improving profitability
THE COST OF PHASE 3: Expenses to and from the hotel and lodging plus a daily rate while on site. Total time needed 2 to 3 days on site.
IN CONCLUSION - "...nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should." ― Julia Child, My Life in France
Any restaurant can be improved somewhat, many restaurants can be improved greatly. According to a recent survey this is a short list of the supposed top guest turnoffs in restaurants:
- Dirty environment and contaminated dishes – bathrooms, tables, placemats, glasses, cutlery, waiters clothes, bad smells, hair in dishes, gritty salad etc etc etc
- Over or under seasoned food – failure to taste everything before it is served, poor sauces
- Over cooked or incorrectly cooked food – tough proteins, slushy veggies
- Bad service – slow service, no food introduction, cold food, un-cleared tables, apathy, no checking on table after service
But these cardinal sins are NOT what we experience mostly in some Costa Rican hotel restaurants – in our experience of hotel food service in Costa Rica, the biggest challenges are:
- Staff knowledge, creativity, experience, reliability etc - mostly the staff have not been exposed to anything except the dishes of the hotel
- Dull and uninspired dishes and food presentation
- Perfectly good food assassinated by bad timing or technique
- Waste in the kitchen/kitchen disorganization/labor waste – caused by a number of factors such as buying, storage, slow or inefficient prep, menu problems, organizational and process problems
These may not be your particular problems but in our travels to over 300 eating places in Costa Rica (including all of the best places) we have been regularly disappointed with at least some part of the experience.
In talking with small hotel owners we understand the difficulties of running a small hotel without a professional staff where the food is "as good as it can get". We disagree! Whatever all of us are doing (and this includes our own restaurant), we can always do something better.
- Tonight for example can we choose a more challenging main course – if we start service a little earlier?
- Tomorrow can we find a better way to store fresh vegetables so we can improve the flavors and textures in between deliveries?
- Often we can take the exact same dish and upgrade the recipe to turn it into a real delight instead of a "tired dish you served last week".
We think we can do at least Step 1 with your own staff and your existing dishes. You may choose not to do Step 2 or 3 – if you are satisfied your restaurant has made some progress.
During each step (from initial visit to final check up visit) you have access to the trainers by phone/email to assist you.
Call us today to book your starter visit 2430-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To quote a good friend, Nanami, a sushi master, who helped us improve our own food offerings, "It's all about the fish". By that he means the condition of the food, the freshness, the origin. If you start with great food, you should end the meal with something wonderful. But you can't start unless you have the "good fish" and an idea of what to do with it.
"If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them to sort it out for themselves." Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and other masterpieces of humor and irony. "That fails to work stupendously in some hotel kitchens however", Berni noted with a grin.