Should an operator craft menu items in-house or buy premade? Both ends of the spectrum are trending.
Operators should weigh a number of considerations with each strategy. Some key decision points include:
Kitchen workload. Does the operation have the labor necessary to create dishes from scratch? Do staff possess sufficient skills to execute house-made? Will cost savings result from using labor-saving products?
Space. Does the back of the house have sufficient storage space, prep areas and room for equipment?
Consistency. Diners generally want consistency. They expect the dish they enjoyed on a previous visit to taste the same when they return. Can handcrafting maintain the same consistency?
Cost. Will the house-made dishes be more expensive than premade versions — or vice versa? Perform a cost analysis to determine ingredient, storage and preparation expenses. Yield and waste are critical factors in cost.
Menu marketing. House-made items can tout terms like fresh-baked, from-scratch, fire-grilled or fire-roasted. Premade item descriptions, especially when they are given a chef’s special touch, can include delicious, classic or elegant. Just be sure the terms are not misleading.
House-made Trending Upward
House-made represents the latest trendy artisanal menu marketing term. House-made implies authenticity — the ingredients are seasonally fresh and perhaps local. And, they were handcrafted in the kitchen. The term and the process both have cachet with diners, providing a perception of quality and freshness.
House-made menu items require more skilled labor and more equipment than premade since staff prepare and cook menu items from scratch. Today’s chefs often make their own pasta, cure their own meat and make their own pickles and preserves.
House-made brings attention to the ingredients. Millennials, particularly, want to hear the story behind the food they eat. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Is it organic? Is it gluten-free?
Implications for E&S: House-made
- Separate sinks for washing produce
- Cooking equipment:
Grills and ovens
- Preparation tools:
Mixing bowls, mixing tools, blenders
- Pasta machine
- Curing ovens/smokers
- Meat grinders
- Containers for pickling and preserves
- Storage space for ingredients, both dry and cooler
Premade Solves Labor Issues
That old ad that stated “Only her hairdresser knows for sure” — meaning whether the hair color was natural or not — easily translates to “Only the chef knows for sure” when referring to premade menu items. Most menus do not advertise the fact that the dishes or the ingredients were pre-prepared. The ongoing assumption by the consumer is that a chef prepares things in the kitchen, from scratch.
Ongoing and increasing difficulty in finding skilled labor for the back of the house, though, has shifted chefs’ attitudes toward the use of premade items. The most significant way house-made differs from premade is in the labor required to create the dishes. If there is a large, trained staff, house-made is possible. If not, the use of premade items can save the day.
Precut produce requires cooler storage space but can eliminate some washing and prep areas. Premade food items require cooler space if they are sous vide or cook-chill and freezer space if they are frozen.
Precut produce saves time, labor and waste. Labor-intensive items, such as chopped onions or lettuce, save prep time and provide a better yield.
Prepared soups and side dishes are also available frozen or in cook-chill form. Kitchen staff only need to heat and serve them, and operators can add their own special ingredients to make them into a signature dish. For instance, they can upscale heat-and-serve asparagus with the addition of asiago cheese and bacon for an elegant side dish.
Protein also comes in premade forms, such as chicken with grill marks, sous vide roast beef and precooked bacon, to name a few. House-made menu items require more skilled labor and more equipment than premade since staff prepare and cook menu items from scratch. Today’s chefs often make their own pasta, cure their own meat and make their own pickles and preserves.
House-made brings attention to the ingredients. Millennials, particularly, want to hear the story behind the food they eat.
Implications for E&S: Premade
- Retherming pots and kettles for heating sous vide or cook-chill items
- Steam tables
- Containers for storing precut produce
- Tongs and other handling tools
- Ovens for reheating
- Fryers for cooking precut french fries and other items, such as shrimp or chicken tenders