V-Day prep: How to train your staff on special menus

“Anybody who’s going out for Valentine’s Day wants to have a good time and be in love,” Guillaume Magnani, General Manager of Cafe Centro, a brasserie-inspired restaurant in Midtown New York, says with a laugh. “It’s up to us to create that atmosphere.”

It’s a challenge on the busiest dining days of the year, but he and Chef Ted Rozzi have a game plan that spans all touchpoints of the restaurant.

Their plan starts with creating a menu to make the holiday special. All other prep stems from that—including preparing every team member for the occasion. Getting your entire staff to embrace the menu and empowering them with knowledge to sell it can be a challenge, but the effort to get everyone on the same page so your guests have the right information is key to making the evening a success.

Host stand

One of the first things Magnani does when preparing for a special service is inform the host team. “As soon as we get the menu, I make sure I print one for the host stand,” he says. The team at the front desk needs to know for phone calls or in-person diners who need information. “We also make sure that the host team is at the pre-shift meeting so if they have questions they can ask Chef,” Magnani continues. “It’s important that they’re there since we have regular guests who don’t make their reservations online and can’t see the pop-up on the website or the menu on OpenTable.”

Cafe Centro also uses their OpenTable system to create pop-up notifications for reservations, so if someone doesn’t know the menu or absentmindedly makes a reservation for February 14, they’ll immediately see a reminder of the holiday and the special menu. That prevents guests from making a reservation thinking they’ll have access to the a la carte menu only to find out it’s not available.

Pro tips:

  • Inform host stand of any special menu well in advance so they can communicate it to guests
  • Include hosts in pre-shift meetings and tastings
  • Create pop-up notifications of the holiday and special menu for online reservations

Back of the house

The menu is the biggest part of a special holiday service, and Chef Rozzi makes sure he spends plenty of time preparing his kitchen. “I always try to use more upscale ingredients on Valentine’s Day and do dishes for two or something like that,” he says.

Switching up the menu means spending extra time with the cooks to make sure they understand the dishes and have an idea of what to expect that night. “For a special night like this we’ll do recipe testing a couple of weeks before,” Rozzi adds. “My sous chefs and I will work on the menu together and taste through everything.” This gives Rozzi the opportunity to change anything that may not work. “We’re already providing dishes that are upscale, so we want to make sure we’re executing our best.”

Pro tips:

  • Determine any menu changes as far in advance as possible
  • Test and taste any new dishes
  • Spend extra time with kitchen staff so they’re ready for the big night

V-Day Prep: How to Train Your Staff on Special Menus

Front of the house

Both Rozzi and Magnani agree that pre-meal meetings with front-of-the-house staff leading up to Valentine’s Day are critical and will determine the success of that holiday’s service. “For the week and a half before Valentine’s Day, we’ll start going over the menu for the day and any other information they need to know about,” says Magnani. Starting early ensures servers are able to answer any questions guests may have about what the restaurant is planning for Valentine’s Day. “People start asking what we’re doing around that time so we want to make sure we’re prepared.” They talk about how many courses and beverage pairings the menu will have, as well as price points. 

A few days before the holiday, Rozzi starts tasting the front-of-the-house staff on the dishes so everyone working that night knows the menu and has a chance to ask any questions. “We do staff tastings of the menu to make sure that the front of the house is comfortable with it and the back of the house can practice picking up these dishes,” he explains.

Pro tips:

  • Start going over the special menu at pre-shift meetings 7-10 days before the big event
  • Include pairings and price points 
  • Run tastings—it helps both back and front of house know the menu

Even though Cafe Centro is going to give their diners “extras” to make their meal more romantic—a rose for each table and mignardises, for example—Magnani says that ultimately, not that much changes in the dining room. With preparation, he and Rozzi allow their entire staff to focus on doing what they do every night, which is to provide the best hospitality possible. “We’re making sure that everyone’s leaving happy.”

Get ready for Valentine’s Day with a one-stop shop of resources to help you prepare.

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