We are officially half way through Hudson Valley Restaurant Week and we’ve all spent the last week reading the glorious accounts of restaurants experienced and food eaten.
Restaurant Week will always be important to me because it was the first time I ever wrote for Liz and for Small Bites. Since my first writing, my life has undertaken many changes including, most pertinently, a move from being an admirer of the restaurant industry to an insider. Just over a year ago I met Chef Anthony Goncalves and was offered the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented crew at 42 The Restaurant.
Being on the inside has had me re-reading all of my old restaurant reviews and, in some cases, wincing at my ignorance of menu planning. With the assumption that you, our Small Bites readers, are better informed than I was, I will beg your patience as I delve into all that goes into Restaurant Week planning.
Restaurant Week elicits an interesting dichotomy. Restaurateurs are givers, people who would rather serve than be served. However, they are also, necessarily, businessmen in an industry with notoriously thin margins and little room for error. Restaurant Week is like a flu for those who are hospitality minded but the real fever comes when thinking about prices. During HVRW, lunch is $20.95 and dinner is $29.95. At those prices, if one were thinking of profit margin alone, every offering would be grilled. And probably chicken. However, being a restaurant in the Hudson Valley is being part of a community and, of late, a culinary renaissance. At 42, a 24,000 square foot restaurant atop the Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, Restaurant week is a time when roughly 7,000 guests will pass through our doors and allow us to introduce ourselves. Because of this, the menu we put out, the ability of the servers to present it and the quality with which the kitchen can prepare it is of utmost importance.
Value is an interesting concept during Restaurant Week. The whole point of the promotion is a discount menu that allows Hudson Valley food aficionados to try the restaurants they’ve been craving at a price that makes experimentation affordable. However, from a restaurant’s perspective, what to offer can be quite challenging. Right off the bat, do you offer a special HVRW menu in conjunction with your normal a la carte menu or create a prix fixe, exclusive Restaurant Week menu? At 42, being the size we are, the answer was fairly simple, we would create a menu specific to HVRW.
When preparing a Restaurant Week menu, business models and profit projections go out the window. Is salmon expensive at this time of year? So what if it is, diners are still coming to experience 42. This is one of the times when the talented kitchen staff of 42 gathers with Chef Anthony to create a delicious, exciting, and affordable menu for the thousands about to descend upon us.
While many restaurants offer a Restaurant Week menu in conjunction with their normal a la carte menu, we decided that there was no way to deliver the true 42 experience with that many variables. We would offer one menu. But how do we truly introduce ourselves to new diners with a limited menu? The answer, in our minds, was to offer more options, a larger number of classic 42 favorites, at a supplemental price.
Supplements are an interesting factor. There are some diners who appreciate the chance to have a larger, still discounted, menu, and those who feel it is a bait and switch. Using a discounted price to get patrons in the door before trying to sell them a time share or some such. In our minds, it meant that everyone could try our (absolutely amazing!) crispy calamari as part of a discounted dinner or, for a few dollars above a low price, could experience our Macau Pepper Steak.
As someone who would like to go to sleep with that dish every night forever, I like the idea of supplements. At the end of the day a wonderful menu was created. Now all we had to do was teach it to the front of house in a few hours…….