Concept and Theme
The concept behind the restaurant is modern French, created and served with an emphasis on casual elegance. This ties in with a key element of the concept, which is affordability. Given opportunities created by technology, along with an increased public familiarity with a variety of cuisines and cultures, the underlying theme of the restaurant is to reinforce classical French cooking in an accessible way to the modern customer. It is essentially a restaurant that will reintroduce French food to markets that have long been exploring more recent presences and cultural influences, and do so in a way more comfortable than French cuisine is usually perceived.
To that end, we are to be known as more of a bistro than restaurant, an identity in place due to both theme and spatial concerns. The Cafe Provence seeks to be small and intimate, and this is to be a major strength. Many restaurants fail because they entertain ambitions beyond the reasonable scope of what they can provide, and food and service quality declines in efforts to bring in more business. The cafe will be a single room, seating no more than 40 guests, and the décor will be based completely on the theme of “elegant familiarity.” Fresh flowers, clean white linen or polished bare tables, and comfortable seating will be its trademarks of style. Everything will be simple, but correct. For example, high quality silverware will be used, as the table settings will contain only the basic utensils. A very limited menu of affordable wines will be available, and the small service staff will be trained to be welcoming and knowledgeable. The entire concept depends on creating and maintaining an atmosphere of warmth and ease, in which classic French country dishes are presented, customers feel “at home,” and the pricing is moderate.
Selecting the location of a new restaurant is absolutely critical, and it relies on a great deal more than choosing an available site that seems commercially active. The location must be chosen with the image or concept of the restaurant in mind (Rainsford, Bangs 35). For example and rather obviously, a beautiful space for the cafe found in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, and one offered at a good rent, would be unacceptable. The same would be true if we were to seize on an opportunity to take advantage of a very inexpensive rent because the area is in decline. Many restaurants take these courses, trusting in that the place itself will overcome the location challenges. The greater reality is that no opening restaurant can afford to not be as ideally situated as possible.
Given the concept, then, the cafe will be in an area of the city where the theater district is set. Even smaller cities have such areas, and there are enormous advantages built into such a location. With the cafe devising a pre-theater menu, we will seek to enter into arrangements with the theaters, offering discounts or packages. Then, the clientele attending plays is the clientele we seek: urbane, professional, but not necessarily out to spend a great deal. The advantages are so strong, in fact, that determining the city itself will be guided by this. Not only will the good food at moderate prices attract those going to the theater, the location offers the benefit of a “second wave” of business after the shows, and we will have a light supper/dessert menu available then. In terms of strategy, this allows the cafe to run with one kitchen person, or none at all if we have the light foods and desserts accessible to the servers. We will also have the opportunity to attract customers not going to the theater, as play times will provide us with the peak dinner hours of eight to ten free. In creating the cafe based on this specific location, we set ourselves up to obtain maximum business from a variety of clienteles, one of which is “built into” that area.
Menu and Kitchen
As with all the elements of the restaurant, planning the menu relies on factors seemingly removed from the actual cuisine. Kitchen equipment, for example, must be selected that works with the kind of cooking to be done, just as hiring the chef and even designing the space should in some way complement the menu (Baraban, Durocher 12). This is all very much in mind as we devise the Cafe Provence menu. Most importantly, we will be emphasizing the reality that, contrary to popular thinking, French country cuisine is both highly accessible and not “intimidating.” It is classic in preparation and it requires a skilled chef, but it also reflects today’s demand for fresh, regional products. Equally importantly, as this is a cuisine developed from the farm regions of France, it does not rely on costly ingredients. The beauty of French country food is that the refined tastes come from preparation, rather than expensive items. Consequently, the menu will reflect both the elegance and accessibility of this.
Key elements of the menu, then, will be those basics familiar to many: omelets, crepes, and country casseroles and stews. Such a menu allows for a more efficient kitchen; as, for example, the chef must give his focus to each blue cheese and walnut omelet, a regular dish such as a coq au vin or a rabbit stew may be prepared in advance of opening and simply be heated and dished out. Such items, in fact, gain in flavor through simmering for hours. The same is true for the fruit tartines that will be the dessert mainstays. While the menu must vary to reflect seasonal offerings, the mentioned items indicate a kind of menu strategy. Dishes like grilled fish or omelets are made to order but demand little time; more complex dishes like stews can be prepared in advance; and costs are controlled by using fish, chicken, rabbits, and other proteins usually less expensive. It must be noted here as well that the chef hired will be critical in making all such determinations, as he or she will be fully responsible for maintaining the quality and authenticity of the menu.
The open kitchen concept is attractive for this type of bistro, and seems appropriate. We want to create a warm, pleasant atmosphere, and the chef visible at his stove would certainly enhance this. Certain weaknesses, however, compel us to create the closed kitchen. On a practical level, an open kitchen typically costs 25 percent more than a standard kind to maintain, and because of space requirements (Walker 60). There are other drawbacks as well. Even as we will maintain the highest standards of cleanliness, even small restaurant kitchens are necessarily messy places, and the cooks are under pressure to “put on a show” we believe will not enhance the food. Open kitchens also often generate too much attention from the customers, potentially creating conflict as the kitchen activity is improperly assessed by them. Finally, it is a mark of respect to the chef that he or she operate in a completely independent space.
In terms of equipment, basics will be observed with an emphasis on a rugged, high-quality gas range. The entire set-up of what must be a limited space will be designed for simplicity. As our output will not be excessive, the main components will be the range and ovens; an oak table for food preparation; a single, large refrigerator; a small refrigerator for servers’ needs; a dishwashing station; and a salad/cold item preparation area. As for the actual food pick-up, there will be heat lamps above the central oak table. The entire space, then, will be arranged around the tables as the centerpiece and the other components along the walls, allowing for a free range of movement. Unless dictated otherwise by the chef, there will be no freezer beyond the small one in the single refrigerator. This is for expediency, as well as to reinforce the ongoing usage of only fresh ingredients. Lastly, the chef will see to it that the kitchen is always prepared for inspections of any kind, including the desire of a customer to step inside for a moment.
Baraban, R. S., & Durocher, J. F. Successful Restaurant Design. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.
Rainsford, P., & Bangs, D. H. Restaurant Start-Up Guide. Chicago: Kaplan Publishing, 2000. Print.
Walker, J. R. The Restaurant Study Guide: From Concept to Operation. Hoboken: John Wiley