Watch your Demographics,
“Where I come from, Chicken is a vegetable.” Is a phrase that one of my guests here uttered to me the other night as he came back for a third slice of Prime Rib, totaling close to two pounds of meat he had ended up having for supper, nothing else, no jus, no horseradish, nothing. Tonight he was a little less focused on his protein, he had some dressing and gravy to go with his Turkey, and of course only one steak, to start. (Didn’t notice what he had for his second helping tonight, but he always comes back for at least one more helping of anything). Suffice it to say that some of these workers here come in with very healthy appetites. It certainly doesn’t hurt matters as far as they are concerned, that they don’t have to pay a dime for anything that they eat. It is very interesting to try to remember all of the guests and what their preferences are, while one may look at the plate of food presented them and say something like, “I guess that’ll do as an appetizer”, the next guest in line would not eat that much in two days.
But enough about my guests and the amount that they eat, the point of this article is not how much they eat, but what they find appealing. A couple of months ago I moved from one kitchen to another here on site, and the way they house the workers means that the demographics change even over the three kilometers separating me from the other kitchen. I have about a third of the population here as compared to the old camp and for example, when we have lamb on the menu, in any form, I go through as much here as the larger kitchen, with triple the guests. The list can obviously go on and on in this regard. So over the distance of just a couple of kilometers we can have such a disparity of popular menu choices, you can well imagine what kind of changes take place from province to province, (or state to state). When I was cooking on the West Coast I had a few dishes that I would serve in most every venue that I could and for the most part they sold quite well in all of them. As my ex and I moved to the prairies and I needed a special here and there I would, of course go to my old stand bys, tried tested and true. No such luck, while seafood on the coast in any form proves to be quite popular with the locals as well as the tourists I had no luck in selling it in the middle of the country. Orange Roughy just does not travel inland very well in my experience, battered and deep fried anything, and you may make a few sales. Likewise a lamb dish that received rave revues on the coast and actually got a mention in a national publication did not sell enough to justify ever trying again once I managed to sell off the original case of product. Now all of this is not to say that you can’t sell lamb in the prairies, or seafood anywhere but the coast(s), but in my experience, the coast has, or at least had, a much more metropolitan, or diversified, palate. As far as geography goes, west of the Great Lakes and east of the Rockies beef is King, and pork is a distant second. Of course chicken is chicken and a turkey here and there is at least acceptable but you had best have that nice large variety of beef on hand if you want them back in the doors on a regular basis. As you move into the higher end of the dining venues the tastes of the guest will become a little more adventurous, and refined, as you get into the more mainstream dining rooms and restaurants the tastes of the guest turns to the more mundane fair. Once you get to the chain restaurants, QSRs and the like, it’s no wonder that they all serve virtually the same menu, that is what the clientèle that frequent these places want.
To look at it from another perspective, that being the monetary one, the guest that is able to go out for a very nice meal (read expensive) on a regular basis is probably also the one that is willing and eager for a new and different taste sensation, the dining public that is frequenting the chains and fast food venues is more than likely the guest that is spending the same fraction of discretionary income on the meal outside of the home, but is not willing to part with that money on something unknown. That tried and true comes to bear again and those people are looking for a meal out just to not be cooking at home more often than not, as compared to the high end diner that is looking for something new, that more often than not they could not re-create at home even if they chose to.
It all boils down to knowing your guests, and where you are. There is nothing more difficult than moving to a new area and having to ascertain what the clientèle is hungry for. The three most important things in the business being location, location, and location work in more than one way.