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By Darren Renna and William “Billy-O” Orilio

When was the last time you booked dinner at a Chef’s Table? Do you even know what a Chef’s Table is? I didn’t until my co-author Billy-O explained this little known culinary experience to me.

Essentially, it’s a dining table located in, or adjacent to, the kitchen or in another secluded section of the restaurant, away from the main dining area and therefore hidden from other diners.

At the Chef’s Table, patrons receive a highly personalized dining experience and often times a special menu selection as well.  But more importantly, it affords the diners a direct window into the culinary philosophy and creative process of the Chef behind the establishment as he or she interacts with them while preparing their dinner right in front of their eyes, noses and mouths.

Even though you hardly ever hear about Chef’s Tables today, they used to be very popular in high-end culinary establishments in the late 1980’s. However, a smattering of Chefs still use them to serve personalized dinners to their patrons.

But could it be possible that this relic from the 80s is being readied for a revival in 2017 and beyond?

A cursory search of the internet turns up a list of eateries in major cities that still offer this unique dining experience. With today’s Celebrity Chef culture and an explosion of cooking and restaurant related shows on the internet and television to help satisfy the public’s insatiable hunger for the creative process behind fine dining, the Chef’s Table, we believe, is primed for a resurgence. The fact that Netflix, the internet’s entertainment media behemoth, has for the past couple of years been producing a series by the same name, is both noteworthy and a harbinger of the industry’s future direction. In this article, we lay out our thesis and show how restaurateurs willing to jump on this emerging trend can realize a substantial increase in both revenue and profits.

Bringing the Chef’s Tables out of the kitchen and onto the restaurant’s patio in full view of other diners isn’t only good for business it’s also great for the bottom line. In today’s highly competitive hospitality industry with ever tightening margins, these tables help restaurateurs increase revenues because today’s customers pay a premium for specialized service. Try and visualize a Chef’s Table, where a group of diners is treated to a special dining experience with the restaurant’s Chef, personally cooking, educating, interacting or simply socializing with them…Not only will this group feel “special,” but the establishment’s other patrons, feeling left out, will now want to book this table for their next outing so that they too can enjoy the special opportunity to interact with the Chef(!!!) and bask in his / her special attention!

Furthermore, restaurants will be able to piggyback on their diners’ penchant to telegraph their lunch and dinner outings via social media, and get the word out on this unique dining experience to their legions of followers on Facebook and Instagram, and other social media sites for free. Talk about “word of mouth” marketing bonanza as well!

A recent study from Bankrate reports that 54% of millennials eat out at least three times a week and many see it is a key element of their social lives. That’s because, eating out is more than just the food; it's about the entire experience. Millennials and Baby Boomers alike also agree that it is worth it for them to pay a little extra to go to a restaurant that offers a cool roof top dining or an outdoor patio. And we don’t need a research report to tell us the millennials especial affinity for social media…

We all know of, or even dined at a string of steak restaurants throughout the country that have a centrally displayed grill for the guests, with the help of a grill cook, to grill their own steaks.

Imagine a six or an eight-seat grilling table on the roof top or patio of a restaurant, marketed as the “Chef’s Table,” where guests get to enjoy the thrill of grilling their own entrees, while having an interactive social dining experience, not just amongst themselves, but also with the Chef!

No one can argue that the internet is responsible for spawning a culture in which its denizens have become more insular. However, dining out provides a needed break for web surfers’ weary eyes and allows them to enjoy an evening with family and friends and an interactive dining experience around a “Chef’s Table” will be a boatload of fun for them and also a perfect way for your restaurant to differentiate itself from its competition. Furthermore, your establishment will build a tremendous reservoir of goodwill with its fans who will be all too happy to promote your business via their social media channels. In no time, word will spread and your restaurant will become a “destination” that offers an unforgettable and unmatched dining experience. Every guest in the restaurant will be intrigued. And we all know that “intrigue” leads to “want,” want leads to “need” and ultimately need creates DEMAND.

Billy-O and I recently experienced a demonstration of a new up-start grill table in a residential setting and it was a great way to entertain. Billy-O suggested we explore a commercial use and that’s when the idea of reviving the Chef’s Table came to life. As hospitality consultants, we do everything we can to “make the world a better place to eat, drink, stay and play.” That said, we strongly encourage those in our industry who are visionaries to visit and put your creative DNA to work.

If you do, the cha-ching sound that you will keep hearing will be your cash register in overdrive!

About William “Billy-O” Orilio

William “Billy-O” Orilio is the owner of HOSPITALITY CONSULTANTS, a San Diego based hospitality consulting firm, which specializes in assisting operators develop “Mystery Shopping” programs with proven results. Billy-O has over 40 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, is certified by California Superior Court to provide “Expert Testimony” and is a licensed Private Investigator in CA and NV. Billy-O also published a nationwide monthly newsletter, “HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY REPORT” for 16 years and has taught restaurant, hotel and casino management at San Diego Mesa College for 19 years and San Diego State University, CES for 5 years. Billy-O is designated by the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute as a Certified Hospitality Instructor.  

About Darren Renna

Darren Renna is a third generation California Food and Beverage Professional, his grandparents George and Rose Renna having operated Renna’s Liquor in Santa Maria California from 1956 to 1994, his parents owned and operated the Coaster Saloon in San Diego’s Mission Beach from 1983 to 2017.  Darren graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a focus on International Business and worked for ten years as the General Manager of the Coaster Saloon and is now Director of Operations at San Diego based, Hospitality Consultants.  Darren brings three generations of passion, experience and industry networking to all of his endeavors, a trade and family value which will be handed down to a fourth generation of Renna’s.

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