Above: Chef Toddler gives his opinion of a meal, high in fruit.
Apply restaurant business principles to your home cooking and watch your guests marvel in delight.
Taste is unique, subjective and different. When something tastes too salty, or too spicy, it’s a matter of contention between two separate tasters. When something tastes good, though, everyone seems to agree.
When dining out, you’re going to decide what to eat based on your opinion of what tastes good. But, when preparing a meal for your family, much like a professional chef, you must decide on their behalf what tastes good. Is it possible to please everyone?
The short answer is no, it isn’t. However, many cooks have pleased everyone at one time or another, and considering all of today’s diets and allergies, you wonder how that’s possible? When serving a large group, the amount of options you include in the single meal, or variations of the same things, will earn you the crowd-pleasing award, with only a grain of extra work. With Easter Sunday on the menu this weekend, heed these tips:
- Know your patrons, or guests. Understanding the needs and tendencies of your guests will make the art of pleasing them much simpler. For example, if your brother is allergic to nuts, remove them from the menu, and replace them with sunflower seeds, which are now specially produced in separate facilities to avoid the awful lawyer written package disclaimer, “May contain traces of nuts.”
- Knowing your patrons eating habits is critical in the restaurant industry, where a puny $70 lamb chop with truffle-fed-pig bacon and caviar might go over brilliantly in one market and have the creator of it run out of town on a pitchfork in another. Use the insight of the professionals, do market research, ask your guests if they have any allergies before you begin cooking, and do your best not to give them the, “are you really allergic or is this just a new fad” look.
- Do more with less. Cross utilization of ingredients is a good way to offer more options, and please a large amount of people. If you plan to serve mashed potatoes to twelve people, you will need about six pounds of potatoes. If you serve them mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes, you will need about a few more pounds of potatoes, and with a simple three-step cooking process, there will be another choice of sides.
- Restaurants seldom incorporate menu items which only have a single use. Principally for cost effectiveness, cross utilization of products is critical when figuring preparation, spoilage, waste, storage and purchasing.
- Give them wine, and more wine. As mentioned here before, the quality of conversation is directly equivalent to the timeliness of the meal being served. Guests engaged in engrossing, entertaining conversations always feel as though they received speedy service, whether it was from the host at a dinner party or at a popular and busy restaurant. Conversely, the guests who have nothing to say to one another will undoubtedly require some diligent attention from the host, or the opinion of the meal will suffer. Use wine to get the people talking, to get the mood entertaining, and let the guests forget that you said dinner would be ready in fifteen minutes—about forty-five minutes ago. Also, some popcorn and snacks go a long way in buying time. Here is Chef Toddler making popcorn:
- As one might expect, The Sober Sous Chef doesn’t drink, but that should not be an excuse, nor is it a good reason, to neglect one of the most traditional, time-honored focal points of a gathering. If you don’t drink, or are inexperienced with purchasing wine, ask your guests to bring a bottle. For a large holiday, they assume you put a lot of work into preparing their meal and are more than happy to bring something. They will feel like they contributed to the overall meal, which in turn pleases them.
- Play some music. Mood, ambiance, call it what you will, play an important role in the final opinion of the meal. Remember one of the nicest meals you ever had, and try to visualize the surroundings. Was it in a nice restaurant, elegantly appointed and with pleasant—but not overwhelming—music playing? Chances are, if you think real hard, you will remember some sort of pleasing ambiance when you remember your favorite meals.
- In two studies, published in 2000 in the National Library of Medicine, an identical meal was served to guests in a restaurant, laboratory and cafeteria. It should come as little surprise that the restaurant meal received better reviews, however, the laboratory came in second over the cafeteria. The studies go to show that the perception of food and the manner and environment in which it is served has a decisive correlation on the taste of the dish, or at least the perceived taste. The studies fail to mention that this is common knowledge among restauranteurs, and that they wasted some grad student’s time and money in conducting them.
- Show the love! Best served as a side dish in itself, love is the most essential ingredient to show the guests. If they see you putting heart and sole into the dish, they may be disgusted. So, talk it up, remind them how much you enjoy their enjoyment, and they will walk away pleased, as ever they can possibly be.
- People have a reverence for a person wearing a crisp, clean, pressed and embroidered chef coat. The best thing a chef can do to ensure that everyone is pleased is to talk to his guests. The difficult thing, though, is the chef is supposed to be cooking for the other guests, and if they see him at the wrong time, say, when their meal has been taking too long, they may become irritated, which defeats the purpose of pleasing everyone. It is best to avoid asking to “speak to the chef” for this reason, and others, in general.