The humble bistro was a Parisienne concept that offered cheap food to lodgers of boarding houses, the dishes would be simple but delicious and this budget type of restaurant flourished. Bistros today can be found all over the world serving not just regional French food but ethnic food from every corner of the globe. America has embraced the bistro phenomena since the 1980’s and the American bistro has formed its own unique identity among the bistros of the world. All bistros hail back to the original small hotel diners in Paris that served simple, rustic, delicious regional French dishes. American cuisine does not have the luxury of long tradition, but certain country type dishes have now made their own on bistro menus around the fifty states of the vast country.
Typical Bistro Food
The original French bistro had a menu that was designed for using up local ingredients or left-over food, it was in essence rural home cooking. French cooks would often take fresh vegetables and leftover pieces of meat to make hearty soups and stews. Classic French bistro food included Coq au Vin, and Moules a la Mariniere, even a piece of freshly baked bread with some local pate and a glass of wine can be classed as French bistro food.
Classic American Bistro Food
Most bistro food is served quickly, but a great many of the dishes take a long time to cook with a few key ingredients. Certain American classics are ideal for this type of cuisine such as clam chowder, 24 hours cooked pork shoulder, shrimp and sausage gumbo, spicy-sweet ribs and beans, chili con carne etc. Other popular American bistro food are steaks, salmon with mash potatoes, braised and slow cooked pot roasts, vegetable stews. Beer is often the most popular accompaniment in an American bistro rather than the traditional wine. But if you think about it, back in France wine was the local and cheap brew so it was wine that was served.
Classic American Bistro Food
The original French bistro was little more than a boarding house basement, with a few rustic tables and assorted odd chairs. Today the American bistro can have any theme under the sun, from retro 20’s style, to ultra-modern and minimalist design. Many American bistros favor classic striped awnings outside to mark the premises as a bistro and to give a slightly European twist. Americans have always loved fast food and that is why the Hot Dog and Burger are so popular, but Bistros have offered something new since their inception. A place where great slow cooked dishes are served quickly, some bistros can turn out a plate of slowly cooked pork shoulder faster than a burger and fries.
This is one of the reasons America has taken to the bistro so well, not only does it serve food quickly but the food being served is classic regional food that is delicious and does not cost a fortune. It literally is a recipe for success, who can refuse home cooked food as good as your mother used to make, laden with top quality ingredients and cooked to perfection.
Running your own business is not an easy thing to particularly do and running a bistro in the catering trade is certainly not a cake walk. In part one of this blog we looked at setting out your business plan and marketing your business. In this blog we learn about looking at your competition and soliciting for help from experts in the business. Plus, also the food that you serve to elevate your business above others.
Never take your eyes off your competition especially the successful ones, before you open your bistro look at the vicinity you have selected, see what types of eateries are there and if any are in direct competition to you.While you are new you will probably not be known in the area, so take the opportunity to visit the competition and see what they are doing right and wrong.
Part of your own due diligence in opening a restaurant is to make sure you take on board as much professional advice as possible. Seek out owners of bistros that are not in your area and talk to them how they run their business. Go to restaurants in your chosen area that are not in your category, they will be happy to give you advice of the local trade and what customers request. Restaurant patrons do change from area to area depending how affluent the area is and where it is located. Know your local area and tailor make your business to serve it, do not think you know better and buck the trend.
Your business plan will give you an indication of how much you should be charging for your food and what type of service you can afford. But this does not mean you have to serve cheap food made with inferior produce? Your menu should be inventive, source your food locally and strike up deals with local suppliers. If a particular dish highlights a particular star product such as a particular cut of meat or a fish caught that day then highlight the fact, and it will justify an increase in price. Patrons will be happy paying for good produce and well-cooked and presented food. There will be a ceiling price that customers will not pay over, but it may take some trial and error to find out what it is. One of the most important factors for any kind of restaurant including bistros is levels of service. Customers do not like waiting if they do not know the reason or are not kept busy. This is where you as the owner must stamp your identity on the bistro, introduce yourself and make your diners feel part of the whole experience.
Perhaps offer them a drink while they wait and explain that each dish is being cooked fresh so that is why there is a delay. As long as they know they have not been forgotten diners are a pretty understanding bunch, with the proviso that the end result is worth waiting for. Running a bistro can be a rewarding experience on so many levels and can also be lucrative if you follow the basics and your business plan. Stick to your plan, avoid waste and look after your customers, and you should not go far wrong.
A small, simple restaurant that serves excellent food quickly is more or less what a bistro consists of, Bistros have come a long way from their earlier roots in Paris and now can be found all over the world serving all manner of ethnic food. Bistro’s popularity is that they serve a small selection of dishes, cooked to perfection and using locally sourced ingredients. The menus are fitted around dishes that are easily prepared but are good value for money and simple.
The Start-Up Period
The Start-Up Period
The statistics for any kind of restaurant are not good with 50% failing in the first three years, compared to any other business the restaurant trade is particularly difficult. You need to do your homework before trying to open up your bistro, know the locality you have chosen and the food scene in the area. A bistro fits into a complicated chain of dining establishments and you have to be certain that there is a niche for your type of food.
Many bistro owners fail by not doing their sums correctly and being underfunded, getting any business off the ground always costs more than you originally think and contingency must be built in at the very start. Make sure you are fully funded before you open your bistro doors.
You have chosen a bistro type of food outlet so make sure you hire experienced bistro staff, especially your chef. There is no point hiring a five-star Michelin chef if he is not in tune with your bistro concept, you will have conflict from day one.
Marketing is critical for a bistro to survive, and it is a minefield as advertising and marketing campaigns are expensive. Have a proper marketing plan to suit your business and the locality, make sure your budget covers it and you build in alterations and changes should it not work. Social media is particularly effective in the catering industry and is relatively cheap, use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get your message across. Encourage feedback and interaction on your pages, word of mouth and recommendations are the best form of advertising in the restaurant trade.
Create Your Road-map How to Succeed
A good sound financial business plan is critical alongside a road-map of how the business is going to pan out. Any business plan will keep you focused and on the right path, review it regularly and tweak it where it is not working.Build in your locality, a bistro is often a localized business and serves a local community, it does not mean you cannot serve patrons from further afield, but base your business plan on local diners, these will be your bread and butter. This means target your marketing and advertising to reflect the near vicinity. Perhaps also let this reflect your menu, give your diners what they want to eat and not what your chef wants to explore creating in the kitchen. Source local ingredients and let the local butcher and greengrocer brag about stocking you.
In part two of this blog of how to run a successful bistro business we look at other ways and means of launching and sustaining a good bistro.