Instead of suggesting that a tabletop looks old or dated, the better option is to use the term refresh. It is far less offensive when approaching the topic with operators.

Jeff JohnsonA refresh can be just as much fun as creating a whole new tabletop. It also sets the tone for more consistent, timely updating of a tabletop. A variety of factors can trigger a tabletop refresh, including a new menu, a new chef, a remodel and new competition. Each constitutes a jumping off point for a solid tabletop examination.

New Menu, New Chef

Anytime a new creation hits the menu or a new creator impacts a dish, it’s a great time to refresh tabletop.

A change in tabletop items can really showcase a new chef’s culinary talents. For example, perhaps add a new cast iron piece to match the chef’s signature winter stew, or a little metal sheet pan to reflect a chef’s taste for simplifying a menu. Any tweak can help showcase the new culinary vision. Operators can choose from many cool, unique pieces today, and adding or updating even a few makes all the difference.

Restaurant guests start talking about items when they see something being taken to a table on a certain vessel. It creates interest. They ask their server, “What’s that?”

Even when an operator puts the same menu item on a new, trendy piece of dinnerware, it can create a wow factor, one that customers may accept a higher price associated with that item. Guests notice tabletop enhancements — that includes new glassware and new menu covers.

New Look, New Competition

If a restaurant undergoes a redesign or renovation, clearly tabletop should be part of the update. No plans to renovate? Even more reason to start a tabletop refresh conversation. It is the most inexpensive way to remodel the front of the house.

In creating a new look, add new elements, namely color, into tabletop. Blending is definitely trending, as long as the items do not clash with each other, such as matching a cream with a bright white. It’s really about adding a new piece to blend with what is already on the table.

Flatware continues to trend more toward satin finishes. Although the polished look still has its place, satin is a little more neutral, more industrial.

New competition offers yet another reason to consider a tabletop refresh. New restaurants come with new everything, which can make existing facilities appear the opposite of new. A tabletop refresh can work to revive a facility. Use it to create an impression of newness to guests.

Note that many operators are trending away from linen in favor of more natural elements, such as reclaimed wood finishes, although I do believe traditional linen-covered tables will always have a place in the industry.

For tabletop experts, it comes down to knowing the triggers and identifying the opportunities to embark on a tabletop refresh conversation.

My advice is not to wait around for someone to ask about tabletop. Instead, suggest forgoing a full reset of the table in favor of introducing a few select items that can make the operation more profitable.