Restaurant Simplicity Part 2: The Case for Clean Plating

After your guests have ordered their meals, their second impression of your restaurant will come from how their meal is served. We’ve talked a lot about customer service on this blog, but this isn’t about customer service, it’s about plating. Here’s why plating matters much more in your restaurant than you’ve previously suspected.

Thoughts About Plating

Perhaps you’ve put a lot of thought into your plating already. If so, you’re ahead of the curve. While most chefs learn about plating (and the really talented ones apply the lessons they have learned), most restaurant managers or owners have not actually thought about their plating.

But, you’re asking, isn’t having a chef who presents his dishes well the same darn thing as thinking about plating?

Well, no.

That would be similar to saying that following a recipe is the same as inventing your own.

Just like your ambiance, your menu, your customer service, and your cuisine, your plating reflects the theme of your restaurant, providing a subtle cue to your guests about how they should perceive your restaurant. Since plating may be the most subtle of these cues, it may be the best subconscious tool of persuasion you have.

If plating is such a big deal, why not make it as impressive as possible?

Okay, good question. I have a few answers to this, but of course, the magnitude of your plating efforts should really be determined by the atmosphere you have established in your restaurant.

Here’s why plating should be simple:

1. Simple plating is cost-effective. If you’re placing fewer ingredients on each plate, it costs less to make your food look pretty. Which is cheaper: some artfully arranged mustard, or a small gathering of chopped tomatoes? Plus, you can charge extra for tomatoes, lettuce, or whatever else… but only if your simple plating provides a good reason that those “extras” are not already included. Can you come up with a reason?

2. Plating can be hard when you’re busy. Okay, imagine this. It’s 6:30, the dinner rush is in full swing, and the line of plates waiting for finishing is starting to add up. Food is cooling, and those fancy looking bird-of-paradise garnishes take a few minutes. If all you had to throw on there was a sprig of a unique herb (don’t use parsley, your customers have “been there, done that”), those plates would have all been out the door by now.

3. Elegance is hard to mess up. It’s the same scenario with those fancy bird-of-paradise garnishes. If the kitchen staff messes one of those up, a whole new one has to be made… and that line of plates ain’t getting’ any shorter.

4. Simple plating makes your restaurant stand out. These days, every nice restaurant has got some fancy plating gimmick going on. Either your food is dressed with a whole hothouse of orchids, or there’s some crazy cornucopia in the corner of the plate that looks like a dragon is throwing up your entree. Don’t get me wrong, dragon vomit is cool, but not only do these garnishes make your food seem far more pricey than it is, it also makes your diners think that your restaurant is only for special occasions. Go for simple plating, and they’ll come out to your establishment any time they want a great meal in a simple setting,  with understated elegance that makes them feel pampered.

Start tonight

Like everything else, there’s no better time than the present to start a new project. When you start thinking about how you can make your plating simpler, you’ll want to consider small bits at a time. Things you should consider and discuss are:

  • Dishes: What is the cost right now per broken dish? Can you decrease that cost by buying simpler dishes?
  • Garnishes: Can you cut down on pre-prepared garnishes? Are you throwing most of that garnish away?
  • Sauces: What garnishes can you replace with sauces?
  • Simplicity: What garnishes do you have and like… that you can make simpler?

Start looking at your dishes tonight and let the Uncorkd community know what you come up with. Have fun brainstorming!

Did you miss part one? Check out Restaurant Simplicity Part 1: How to Strengthen Your Menu.

Photo licensed by TheBusyBrain