One of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants is New Year’s Eve. Guests around the world get dressed up and hit the town in search of a place to eat and drink as they ring in the new year. For many operators it calls for months of planning, ordering party favours and decorations, training extra staff and creating posts about the night and its offerings. While making a big party out of this special night seems like the only way to go, it doesn’t make sense for every restaurant. At The Lighterman, New Year’s Eve is stripped down to a more casual evening. “We recognised that we don’t want to follow anyone else,” says Aaron Ashmore, head chef at The Lighterman in London’s King’s Cross neighbourhood. The restaurant which opened last year, is serving an all-day a la carte menu. No cover charges or table service. Despite the fact that the restaurant isn’t offering a set menu, they’ve got quite a few bookings for New Year’s Eve dinner service. “I’ve been anticipating being really busy,” Ashmore continues. “It’s our first New Year’s Eve so we’re going to keep it simple and consistent.”
How did the team at The Lighterman make this decision? We talked to chef Ashmore to find out what factors he and the team considered when making this decision and what advice he has for other chefs about planning for special events.
What do your guests want?
One of the most important elements of any offering is making sure that it aligns with what your guests are looking for. “We’re lucky that we’ve been really busy from the get go,” says Ashmore. The menu at The Lighterman is a mix of casual offerings and more composed dishes that feature items cooked on the kitchen’s woodfired grill. He wanted to make sure that guests were still able to order the dishes that they love even on the holiday. “There’s no point in having these top ingredients if we can’t use them,” he says. He and the team wanted to make sure that guests could stop in for a drink and a dish or a full meal. “We wanted to offer people the chance to come in for an occasion or as a casual bite to eat.”
Look around your neighbourhood. What can you offer that’s different?
In London’s King’s Cross neighbourhood there are plenty of restaurants that are offering multi-course menus for the holiday. Chef Ashmore knew that he wanted to do something different. To get a better idea of what guests are looking for, The Lighterman team spoke to hotels in the area about what they commonly heard from guests on New Year’s Eve. What they heard was that a common complaint of guests was the lack options for a casual dinner on New Year’s Eve. “People didn’t want to be restricted and they wanted to pick what they want.” Going after that information helped the team make a decision about what they would offer for that night’s dinner service.
Can You Create a Holiday Atmosphere in Different Ways?
Just because chef Ashmore isn’t changing the whole menu doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a festive atmosphere. The Lighterman team decided to add one New Year’s Eve party staple to that night’s dinner service. “We are going to have a dj for a few hours,” says Ashmore. He’s also creating a few festive specials for the evening that guests can order a la carte. For him, it’s about staying true to the spirit of The Lighterman and providing guests who want to celebrate with options. “The concept here is to keep it simple and fresh and British,” he says. “We want to embrace that during the holiday.”
What Can Your Staff Handle?
For your staff, New Year’s Eve dinner service is the final push at the end of a busy holiday season. Adding a new menu to the mix could be overwhelming for your back of house staff, especially if you’re short staffed or have just changed the menu prior to the holiday. Ashmore made sure to keep this in mind when considering a New Year’s Eve menu. “We changed the menu at the end of November and we’re changing it again in January so it starts all over again,” he says. It’s a balance of keeping the offerings fresh for guests without tiring out the staff. “We like to keep it interesting but we want our kitchen guys to have enough energy to be excited and come up with ideas,” Ashmore says. Managing a few specials the night of the holiday is more manageable. “We want to make sure that we get it right,” he says.
Ultimately for Ashmore, this New Year’s Eve service is all about learning what works for The Lighterman. “We’re coming up on Christmas now and that’s been a busy time,” he says from the restaurant’s kitchen on a weekday afternoon. The restaurant has been running at full capacity for the past two weeks. “It’s going to be a challenge to go through and learn and plan for the next year, but I think we’ll be good.”
Photos credited to Open House London Ltd.