The challenges when opening a restaurant are numerous. I was concerned about the obvious things. Picking a location, the lease, hiring a staff, planning a menu, buying the equipment, and so on. While I’d be hard pressed in hindsight to say any of those things were a walk in the park, they also did not turn out to be the most challenging pieces either. The devil is in the details, as they say, and it could not be more true. There are plenty of resources available to help with the obvious and large details of running a small business, be it websites, books, or other business owners. Those resources quickly become few and far between when you suddenly find yourself face to face with a small decision that will be unique to your restaurant.
This may seem obvious to some, but one thing I hadn’t considered was the atmosphere. I’m a chef and the food was my main concern. I’ve always wanted to own my own restaurant, and whenever I go into a restaurant my number one concern is the food, but not everyone is me, not everyone is a chef. People care about ambiance, about decorations, about the general atmosphere of an establishment. So while it wasn’t something I was blind to when undertaking this endeavor, it also wasn’t something that I’d considered would take the amount of work that it did. Everything from picking the colors of the paint, to which decorations would hang on the walls, to what level the lights would sit at, to tabletop decor took much longer than I cared for. They had to match, or at least complement each other. They had to fit within the theme of the restaurant. They had to be tasteful, not contain anything that could be misinterpreted as presenting certain viewpoints or affiliations, and even better if they’re inviting and attract people.
Another consideration, mildly tied into decoration, was what to serve the food on. I don’t mean to boast, but our food looks good. It tastes great first and foremost, but presentation is a large part of it, and it looks as good as it tastes. Plating our food on boring, white ceramic plates definitely do not do justice to our dishes. We looked through catalogues for different colored plates, and ultimately couldn’t find anything to our satisfaction. Colorful plates discolored the food in unattractive ways, black plates were glossy and reflective. That’s when my wife had an idea to look beyond ceramic plates. Japanese restaurants have wooden serving trays, so surely there were options beyond your standard plate.
After a bit of searching we ran across the idea of slate plates. I was, of course, familiar with slate as a plating mechanism, but I hadn’t considered it for a restaurant; it was also just a way of presenting food in my mind. But hey, if it’s good for presenting food in competitions and on TV, why wouldn’t it also be good for presenting food to customers? So a bit more stumbling around online led us to slateplate. A domestically run company, right here in the United States, that manufactures these classic black slates specifically designed for food – they make the perfect restaurant plates. They’re a really solid, deep black with absolutely no reflection. They’re smooth top, bottom, and sides. Completely free to chips and the risk of chipping. It makes the food “pop” off the plate, so the presentation of the food is exactly as singular and spectacular as I’d hoped on these slates.
After that we knew we wanted everything about the restaurant to be unique. We ordered these beautiful bamboo menu covers from menudesigns.com. They’re easily washable, and really stand out much more than a simple paper or laminated menu would. They’re smooth and cool to touch, and I’d contend they make customers browse the menus longer since they enjoy holding them. We even made the decision to leave the menus on the tables during meals so customers would have a chance to browse them while or after eating. Washing them is no problem, so it doesn’t matter if they coexist with the food and get a tad messy. I’m proud to announce that this simple decision increases our drink and dessert sales.
And lastly we went to our local flea market to get all of our decorations on the cheap. We found some lovely, one of a kind, paintings for less than $20 each, framed and everything. They perfectly suit the needs of the restaurant, while simultaneously, in my opinion, being much nicer than a reprinting of the same Van Gogh or Monet that everyone has seen a million times in a million places.
We want our restaurant to be unique, and I think we’ve succeeded, even beyond the food, by simply paying attention and putting effort into the details.