The practice of tableside preparation of food has been around for a long time, partly because it’s a very special experience. Think of a dessert prepared at your table:
the warmth of the flame on your face, the combination of cold, warm, and sweet in your mouth. There are a few other thing we can do in the restaurant industry that are more impressive, or ultimately as satisfying, as cooking in the dining room.
There is a business side to this as well. First of all, cooking (or finishing or craving) food in the dining room can take some of the load off a busy station in the kitchen. Believe me, when expediter calls out, “two Bananas Foster” to the pastry station, there is often a sigh of relief from the pastry cooks because all they have to do is put a couple of bananas and ramekins with butter and sugar into a copper pan and send it out. No sauce paintings, no broken tuiles.
The other business-related reason is strictly monetary. Simply put, you can charge more money for tableside items. The cost of ingredients for a Caesar Salad is the same whether it’s made in the kitchen or at the table, but you can charge more for that salad when it’s prepared in front of the guest, because of the added show.
The excitement and satisfaction of the guest, of course, you can lead the financial success of the restaurant is less obvious ways. Return business and word of mouth are hard to measure, but both are sure to increase as you boost the value perceived by the guest. Performing some food preparation in the dining room can be a valuable tool in that regard.
Cooking in front of guest is scary: It’s hard enough to wait tables as it is, and now guest are watching intently as the waiter works with a sharp knife to prepare the food and causes flames to shoot up from a copper pan. The only way to assuage the fear is experience: as the waiters repeat the preparation over and over, they will become more comfortable with it-and maybe even be able to enjoy the showmanship involved.
Tableside preparation can be appropriate to several types of establishments it’s not just the province of the most formal French restaurants. In fact, a casual eatery might be a great place to introduce flaming after-dinner coffees, which could increase sales. The staff must be trained and coached through the process, but if it works, more items can be gradually added. Start slowly, and see how both the staff and the guest react.
The amount of money spent on equipment depends on which dishes are going to be prepared. At a bare minimum, say for a cold salad, the waiter needs a flat, stable surface at a convenient height, as well as the small equipment to prepare the dish. With the move to more complex preparations and hot food, the need for specialized equipment increases. Here are some items that you should be familiar with when entering into the world of tableside preparations.