Small Plates Create New Profits

culinary technology small plates

After what feels like forever winter, we seem to finally be seeing flowers blooming and green on the trees. Golfers are finally on the course and boaters are in the high seas and restaurants are about to shift into a busy outdoor dining season.

With that comes a great opportunity for restaurants and foodservice operators  to maximize  both profits and the customer dining experience. The warmer weather brings a busy calendar on the Metro New York culinary scene with a bevy of food festivals, restaurants unveiling their spring and summer food and beverage menus. I’m not sure if it’s the warm weather or people coming out of hibernation but during spring there is a huge rise in sharing and with that the use of plates.

There’s no question that the price of real estate has had a major impact on the use of small plates. The operator is paying so much per square foot. A big plate takes up a lot of room which then requires a larger table. So a smaller plate with a smaller table enables you to maximize profit. For a restaurant owner, this is a blessing; you can sell a table of six, eight small plates that they all share. Even though they are less expensive people buy more of them. The question becomes how do you manage that profitability within a restaurant.

For your guests this a great way for your guests to be able to try your menu and order something different. Let’s say four people come in and order four appetizers and four main courses, where they are sharing eight different things. If you were to push small plates from the moment they sit down they may end up sharing 12 small plates. This makes the average check go up. Managing the comparison of appetizer and entrees vs. small plates is a challenge that has an odd solution.

It seems that having on odd number on that plate is the way to do it. Look at the number three, there is a theory that three is a cluster. When you walk down the street you are going to notice that everything is in increments of three from flowers to a grouping of books. When you are talking about food, three is a weird number for a table of people. If you are out to dinner with four people and you order a small plate that comes with only three pieces of food you are not going to cut it up and share, you are going to order another serving. This will stay constant all throughout the meal if your guests are eating small plates for their meal.

With small plates and bites you are going to have a variety of positives from a higher average check, energy and ingredient savings, and of course savings on tableware. The energy savings are simple, the plates you are preparing are smaller portion size, for your chef that means fewer ingredients, less time cooking, and therefore giving you some savings on ingredients and energy.

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Smaller plates also enable the operator to create a rhythm and pace that leads to a faster turn of tables. It’s almost as if the staff is able to set the pace because with a smaller plate the customer expects that when a plate is put on the table that one is going to be taken away.

Tapas Small Plates

Now let’s get to tableware. Pretty simply you are serving on smaller plates, which will give you less expensive costs for your plating. Having smaller plates gives your restaurant the option of mixing and matching for your tables. You can incorporate wood, stone, tile, slate or a really intricate bowl. You are given a ton of leniency with the matching because the plating for small plates is usually smaller and sturdier than your average 12-inch plate.

Within the small plates world, the coolest catalog that I have seen recently is the Rosenthal, they have dishes that look like they are made of concrete and slate that are just beautiful. You can play with all sorts of shapes, colors, and textures as long as you match them to the food.  Colors are allover the place but I am stating to see red. Fire-engine red is hot. There’s also copper and lots of satin finishes and blackened metal.

We are seeing a move towards melamine and polycarbonate cups around pools at Manhattan hotspots and with our country club clientele. In fact, we are starting to see a higher quality melamine being used as china. There’s no question that the small plates  create a sense of healthier eating.

Seasonal beverage menus are driven by the creativity of the drink and of course how they are served.  From craft beer flights to floral drinks and cocktails, our goal at BHS is to help our clients get it right.   This is the summer of patterned glass. Not cut crystal, pressed glass. Lots of double old fashioned and hi-balls that are used for everything.  This year’s texture  trends are highlighted  matte finished  but not with ridges.

You should always look at the individual item that you are serving. This is what makes small plates such an interesting segment of the restaurant industry. You have freedom to allow the chefs to create whatever they want, the option for your guests to try more than normal, and do it in a unique stylish way.

Liz Weiss
Liz Weiss is the President and co-owner of Armonk, NY based H. Weiss Co., a division of BHS Foodservice Solutions. 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