Creativity Doesn’t Need To Be Expensive

Tabletop design from H. Weiss Company
Tabletop design from H. Weiss Company

Sometimes it’s difficult to balance one news report that talks about the number of new restaurants that are scheduled to open at Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan and then hear the next day about restaurant closings. 

Liz Weiss
Liz Weiss

So it got me to thinking and carefully listening to our H. Weiss customers about what it takes to succeed. I spoke to an old friend a little while ago. He was looking to open a new space. We kept on going back to finding a new twist, something new, something that you do not see on every corner, something special. 

Thus the first idea grew around small plates, to encourage splitting and therefore ordering more items, lower food costs, and lower plate cost (smaller plates are MUCH less expensive than larger plates).

Then we talked about adding a truly interesting cocktail menu using fresh ingredients like herbs in pots.  So, we were going in the direction of an eternal summer theme by using thyme, basil, lavender, and mint as decorations and ingredients.  Infusing water and booze.  We envisioned small casks making bitters and vinegars. The overall feel we discussed was keeping the air fresh and smelling good. We thought about brighter lighting to imitate a garden setting. I may feel a little different in the winter, but guests would probably like to enjoy a “spring” garden atmosphere in January. 

We remain convinced that the bar menu is a key to creating your signature. Some of our new favorite drinks include fruit balsamic vinegar in water or added into drinks. We love the idea of serving the vinegar on the side in a tiny beaker- like simple sugar. Steelite and American Metal both have interesting beaker selections.  A large copper or pretty cocktail shakers enhance a great look and are very operational and P&L friendly. 

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After the second cocktail, we thought about “crazy and loud” and creating a frenetic atmosphere.  Our vision was staff swirling around, creating buzz and confusion, which could be soothed with food and drink. There is something to be said for loud sounds, bright dishes, and people all over to turn tables.

In each of the projected themes, we saw an attentive involved staff, making suggestions to patrons. We also wanted to make the experience special and generate return visits. So, we agreed that a great way to accomplish that would be by creating a hook of sending out something “free” so the customer feels special. Maybe not an amuse bouche but a taste of a special, an appetizer, or a dessert. Just something to make you feel good about being there. We also agreed to change it up so that one night it is a taste of dessert, the next a taste of an appetizer with the goal of keeping it changing and feeling unexpected. 

We thought that a great place to accomplish that might be at the bar. Why not serve a drink at the bar with a small bite- individual Grilled cheese on a knotted pick as a garnish for a bloody Mary? 

The goal should be not so much amusing bouche to cleanse, but something to get you hungry- and that starts before you order.  Why not think about replacing bread with something- dip, mini-burger, mini taco. Instead of putting it in the middle of the table, serve it to each person. 

Or offer it like Westchester, NY restaurateur Peter Kelly does at brunch. In his restaurants, the waiter walks by and offers a choice of something- not enough to fill you up, but something to start- just one bite- served special. Our H. Weiss team can offer a number of great ways to serve the single bites from a cute plate, on a spoon, in a low martini glass or even on a fork or a bed of greens. 

I guess this is the long-winded way of saying that everyone needs to be different to assure their success. You can’t just be another pizza joint on a street of 10 pizza places. You are looking to be special and create an experience that makes your customer feel good about your place and being there.

You need to ask, are we just feeding people, or is our chef and culinary team and the front of the house management and staff creating something fun?

Liz Weiss is the President and co-owner of Armonk, NY based H. Weiss Co. She is known nationally as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on tabletop design. The Michigan State graduate is also actively involved with WPO-Women’s Presidents Organization. Comments may be sent to eweiss@hweiss.net