Three Ways to Describe Dishes

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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to servers when trying to make the jump from casual dining to nicer restaurants is describing nightly specials.  Learning to describe the dish in a way that makes it sound appealing without tasting or possibly even seeing the item can be difficult.  Many restaurants offer multiple specials on any given evening, which only serves to make it more complex.  Add to that the limited amount of time you have to learn it before your first table and you have a very stressful situation. It is imperative that you have a system in place to learn and recite information about the items you offer in a way that makes them appealing to the guest.

We have already discussed the importance of offering a recommendation and what words to use in it.   The skills discussed here are particularly relevant to servers who have to recite specials nightly, but can be employed by all servers.  When you offer a recommendation off the menu, you need to be prepared to describe the food in greater detail than the menu provides.  Describing food, whether it is on the menu or a nightly special, must be done in a way that makes the food appeal to the guest and paints a mental picture for them.  Ideally you want to create a mental picture of the entrée in their head while describing the flavors that make it exceptional.

The problem with nightly specials is that you will have a limited amount of time to learn them before having to describe them.  You need to have a framework laid out in advance of how you want to describe each dish.  This will allow you to process the information faster and be able to recite it back to the guest in the proper manner.  Once you have a framework down, you will be able to filter out the unnecessary details and focus on what actually makes the dish stand out.  The following are three basic ways to describe any item in a way that appeals to guests.

Plate to Fork: This is the most basic way to describe an entree.  The premise of this method is to start with the plate and literally describe the items piled on top of it.  Start with the protein or noodle and describe up from there concluding with the sauce.  The benefit to this method is that it paints a very vivid picture of the dish as it will arrive on the table.  The drawback is that you have to work to provide a compelling reason for the guest to order it.  Never assume that the guest is making the connection between the flavors.  It is your job to make that connection for them if you want to truly sell the dish.

Example: We start by combining orzo pasta with a buttery rich cream sauce.  At the last moment we add in some fresh spinach.  Then add a grilled filet of wild caught Alaskan King Salmon.  We top it all with a dollop of a compound lobster butter that compliments the other flavors very nicely.

Sell the Meat: This is the most effective method if you are selling a dish that has an outstanding meat component.  Rather than focusing on all ingredients as before, your emphasis should be on selling the protein rather than the accompaniments.  The final decision on an entrée from the guest will probably come down to the protein anyway, so you should focus on it.  This also will enable you to justify in the guest’s mind paying a little more, by explaining why it is a premium product.  This method does require more background knowledge, but a few facts will usually suffice.

Example:  The Alaskan King Salmon is wild caught this evening.  This means it spends between 3 to 5 years out at sea feeding on shrimp, krill, lobster, and crab as opposed to most salmon served in restaurants which is kept in fresh water and fed grain it’s entire life.  When the salmon eats what it is supposed to eat it tastes how it is supposed to taste.  You will find it to be buttery, creamy, and rich while avoiding any of those less desirable flavors that some people equate to salmon.  Which are actually results of grain feeding.  We are serving it tonight over orzo pasta with sautéed spinach and finish it off with compound lobster butter.

Sell the Flavor: This method is a hybrid of the previous two.  It allows you to focus on the flavors of the overall dish.  Rather than trying to sell the meat as superior, you focus on the overall combination of flavors.  This is incredibly effective in justifying a recommendation of an entrée that does not have a superior protein.  Instead of focusing on the components, focus on how it tastes together.

Example:  The wild king salmon tonight is served with compound lobster butter.  This not only pairs nicely together, but also really accentuates the subtle differences between the butter in the sauce and the buttery flavors in the salmon.  We place it on a bed of creamy orzo with sautéed spinach that keeps it from being overwhelming and will refresh your palette for the next bite.

All three of these methods describe the same dish, but in very different ways.  With each method you choose to accentuate something different about the meal, as it’s selling point.  Decide what is particularly outstanding about the dish.  If it is the meat, the second method is probably the best.  If the sauce is what stands out, the first and third methods will be superior.  Whatever method you choose, having an established framework will produce better descriptions with less time to prepare.

Foodie Friday is up tomorrow.  Not many updates this week, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.  Next week you can expect to see some new features and a few new voices having their say.

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