The holiday season is here and that means that restaurants across the country are preparing special festive menus and prix fixes to help diners celebrate. At Bar Boulud London, the UK outpost of American chef Daniel Boulud’s beloved New York City brasserie, the restaurant gets even busier around the holiday season. “We already have 400 bookings for Christmas Day,” says Bar Boulud’s executive chef, Thomas Piat. He created the restaurant’s special holiday three course, prix fixe dinner menu which provides guests with the decadent options they expect during the holidays with Bar Boulud’s signature, fine dining touch. “We don’t change our style of cooking or service or anything else for the holidays,” Piat adds. Below, the chef shares what he and the team at Bar Boulud London think about as they plan for the festive season.
Creating a menu that fits in with the overall brand
In addition to Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners, Bar Boulud London also hosts a Thanksgiving dinner. The inspiration for the dinner came after Piat and his team realised that the Thanksgiving holiday is a popular dinner service at their sister restaurant in the United States. “Basically we decided we were going to do the Thanksgiving menu because it’s a big day at the Bar Boulud in New York City and we got a lot of great feedback,” Piat remembers. The dinner was a hit and diners started asking if the restaurant was going to do it again. This year will be even busier,” Piat says. “We have 200 bookings for our Thanksgiving prix fixe this year.”
While creating festive menus for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Piat stayed in communication with chef Daniel Boulud to make sure that each dish is on brand for the group. “We try to communicate with him about all of our dishes,” Piat says. “He’s always involved in the planning.”
Adding a signature touch
Diners expect certain traditional dishes when they dine out on the holidays, chef Piat says. Bar Boulud’s Thanksgiving menu features a turkey entree, as expected, but chef Piat has added his own twist. “We thought about how we could play with the turkey and add some different textures to the main Thanksgiving dish,” he says. The entree features a turkey galantine, white sausage, brussel sprout fondue and stuffing. The flavours that diners associate with Thanksgiving are there but chef Piat has used his technique to add his own twist. “You can keep it traditional and still do something different.” Just don’t make it something different entirely. “You don’t need to go too far to make something taste delicious,” he warns.
Giving Your Guests What They Want
Piat realises that while some guests want a holiday menu, other diners may want something simple. On Christmas day Bar Boulud London offers their special holiday menu and a modified a la carte menu to appease diners who aren’t looking for a holiday meal. “We want to offer something for the holiday but we don’t want to upset the guest that just wants a burger or whatever,” Piat says. “We always have a lot of choice on the prix fixe for that reason too.” Each course on the holiday prix fixe menu has at least three options so diners can have what they want. Piat and his team get an idea of what to offer by looking at data from the year before. “We compare sales from the year before to see what people ordered and to get a better idea of what we need to order,” he says.
The reservation team also lets guests know about the special menu when they call to book a reservation for the holidays. “Every time they took a booking we let them know about the prix fixe that we’re offering that night and that we wouldn’t have the full a la carte menu.” If you don’t let guests know and they show up expecting the full a la carte menu they’re going to be very upset.
Keep Your Suppliers in the Loop
“We always talk to our suppliers about what we’re doing,” Piat says. “They can point us to special produce or meat that they’ll have around the holidays and we can plan specials to serve that night.” Keeping your suppliers up to date on what you’re planning for the holiday season at your restaurant can also ensure that they have enough of what you want to put on the menu. Piat says that one of the biggest mistakes a chef can make during the holiday season is to not order enough product for a prix fixe. “You want to make sure that you don’t run out of something because if you run out of it and a guest has been planning on having it, they’re going to be very unhappy.”
Take Care of Your Staff
It’s important to remember that it’s the holiday season for everyone on your staff as well as your diners. “They need the chance to celebrate the holidays too and see their family and friends,” Piat says. The staff at Bar Boulud rotates holidays to make sure that everyone gets some time off to celebrate. “We rotate half the staff so they either work Christmas or New Year’s Eve they don’t work both.” Keeping your staff happy during the holidays ensures that they’ll pass their cheer on to the guests.
Photos courtesy of Bar Boulud London