Dinners

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08/04/2008

Please remember that I work at an Inn that does fine dining, so I understand the concept and implementation well. I am wondering how many of you offer dinners.

Feel free to run with this subject pros/cons.

I want to hear it all... I can take it!  Eye-wink

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09/22/2008

I don't have an inn, but I do work part-time at a local place, a small but beautiful destination spa and there are four guest rooms for overnight guests.

One of the things that I've seen as a major con in this case is that planning for her is an obvious weakness.  She spends WAY too much money in food costs (even for breakfast), and as such, there is no profit. In fact, I have yet to see her, in almost two years, make a profit in any way with food.  She is a woman who has the benefit of an unlimited bank account (her husband is VERY wealthy, and she turned her hobby of cooking and going to the spa into a sort of business).  I can't even tell you how frustrating it is to see someone who has all the money in the world work my dream and do such a shoddy job of it.  She *could* be turning a very nice profit if she would focus a bit, or entertain the very sound business ideas of those around her.

I could go on and on.  Try as I might, I cannot convince her to plan for meals.  Most often, she drives to a regular grocery store to pick everything up each day.  That's fine for now and then, but when I suggested that even Costco or Sam's would be a better option, she had never heard of it.  Not joking.  She pays full retail for everything, which significantly impacts her profits. She never buys in bulk.  Not even for staples that she uses in abundance every day: cheese, flour, sugar, butter, milk, etc.

Rather than stick to her menu plan, she often buys on impulse.  So the planned dinner for two often turns into a huge smorgasbord of options.  As there are never more than 8 guests for dinner (she can only serve to her registered guests, not the public), there is no reason to offer five entrees all at once as a buffet.  She'll spread out roasted Amish chicken, smoked salmon, leg of lamb, beef roast, and a pasta dish, without even thinking about the cost.

My advice from working in a kitchen for so long is to plan, plan well, and use everything you can.  If you plan, you can create wonderful meals guests love without breaking the bank. 

From a guest perspective, I would love to have dinner in the inn, but only if I have been out and about all day and wanted to stay in for the night. I wouldn't expect a lavish spread, and would much prefer a simple dish done very well to a more elaborate meal that was not as good.

happyjacks meals sound amazing!

Morticia's picture
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05/22/2008

We don't have a deep bank account to dip into and we don't make money either. Certainly nothing approaching a 'very nice profit'. Hubs shops everyday for the breakfast foods at the local grocery store. We DO buy things in bulk but that is more on the line of paper goods. We can't buy perishables in bulk. The general everyday grocery bill runs between $50-$60 in season. That would feed 14+ guests for breakfast only. That also doesn't include things like coffee, tea, sugar, creamers. But does include juice, fresh fruit and breakfast meats.

Now, if we had 'add ons' like a spa and dinners, we MIGHT be able to make a profit. But making a profit on a B&B that you don't own outright is not an easy proposition.

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egoodell's picture
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06/01/2008

 We are not allowed to serve dinner without a commercial kitchen. I asked for the list of requirements for a commercial kitchen here in Charlottesville, VA. They told me they don't have a list, "just build it and we'll come inspect it". Sure.

A former innkeeper here is convinced the County has a private agreement with the local restaurants.

This might be why they don't have a llst to give out. They may never pass it if we build it.

RIki

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YellowSocks's picture
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05/22/2008

egoodell wrote:
 We are not allowed to serve dinner without a commercial kitchen. I asked for the list of requirements for a commercial kitchen here in Charlottesville, VA. They told me they don't have a list, "just build it and we'll come inspect it". Sure.

You've got a kitchen, right?  Have 'em come and inspect it!

=)
Kk.

egoodell's picture
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06/01/2008

 I have a regular kitchen. Makes no sense for them to inspect a regular kitchen.

A commercial kitchen requires different and expensive things like a hood with a fire system. If I put that in, I think they would come up with something else. My point is, if I don't have on paper what's requried, they could NEVER pass me. I'm not playing that game.

Instead I'm going to finish the walkout basement floor which is not part of the B&B so I can purchase function permits to have wine dinners. Have a caterer who would be happy to do the cooking which means they take the dirty dishes with them, not using my well water. And I can keep an eye on the dinner service and wine pouring. 

Much more fun for me than cooking and serving dinner.

RIki

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05/22/2008

Well yes they do inspect your regular kitchen yearly.  And you pay them to do it.

  The yearly fee is $40 but we hear that it is going up to $100.!!!!!   Can you believe that??? I think restaurants had something to do with it.  

B &B's here in our county now have to do quarterly water testing if you have a well.

BBAV is trying to lead a protest against increasing to $100 but haven't heard anything on it yet.

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05/30/2008

I do dinners fairly often. I'm located out of town so I get some who prefer not to drive out for dinner every night. More so in the winter when people are not as confident on the roads and it gets dark by 5:30. Less often in the warmer months when most guests are out enjoying the area anyway.

I would do them less frequently if I had more and/or better dining options for guests closer to me because yes, they are a lot of work.

The way I do it is the same way I do breakfast: cooks choice; made from scratch with fresh ingredients; with attention to presentation and a balanced menu. Dinners require advance notice so I can ask about food restrictions and plan accordingly. I sometimes decline to do dinner (tell them dinner is not available for the day they are asking) if I have a lot going on in terms of flips or check-ins. When guests book dinner, I don't tell them what the menu will be since I don't often know too far in advance. I tell them it depends on what is fresh in the store. But I give them an idea of sample menus.

Year-round I offer what I call 'simple supper' which is a simply prepared main course and home made dessert. In the winter I also offer 'fine dinners' which are 3- or 4-course meals which include one or two starters as well as a more complex main course and dessert.

A simple supper main course might be one of the following: baked penne, chicken and spinach in a garlic cream sauce with a bit of balsamic salad on the side; fettucini in pink sauce topped with vegetable marinara and grilled italian sausage; cottage pie; grilled steak with salad and bread. In the winter I often offer a chili dinner with hot-from-the-oven cornbread on the side.

A fine dinner might start with butternut squash and pear soup garnished with crumbled goat cheese and toasted pine nuts; main course of chicken breasts stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers and mozzarella wrapped in proscuitto, with rice pilaf and garlic buttered green beans.

Guests are welcome to bring their own wine, beer or favourite soft drink to have with dinner. I offer water with dinner and tea/coffee with dessert.

Dessert is FUN. Cheesecakes, tarts, tortes, homemade icecreams and sauces, crisps, cobblers, souffle cakes... the sky's the limit. A recent dessert was peach torte served in a puddle of ginger-amaretto creme anglais and garnished with toasted almonds and finely diced candied ginger.

Geez, it's exhausting just writing it. Now imagine planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning up after it? And then imagine that once your dinner guests clear out and you finally get it all cleaned up, you've got to dive back into the fridge to prep breakfast for tomorrow. Dinners would be a lot easier if we weren't doing breakfast as well. And don't forget you can't do toooo much breakfast prep in advance because your fridges are crammed full with dinner stuff.

Hubby and I don't mind because we don't do things out in the evening anyway. But if you've got kids and other evening commitments, you will find they clash with guest dinners. Maybe dinners would be something you do only for certain special weekends that you set in advance.

There are upsides, too. I know that my dinners earn me repeat business. I charge enough that I don't feel ripped off (but I cringe when I think about what my hourly rate would work out to if I factored in all the time going into the whole thing). I charge enough that guests could get a decent meal in town for less, which keeps my number of dinners down to a comfortable level.

I sometimes get asked about dinner with short notice (night before or morning of) and if I'm already doing dinner for another couple, then it's usually no problem to add more. Or if I have the fixings on hand and don't have flips or other commitments I might say okay. If you wanted to make dinners a more important revenue stream, you'd have to have enough food in inventory to react quicker than I do. I also find it harder to come up with new menu ideas for the repeat dinner guests. I tend to want to fall back on what is comfortable (when cooking for a crowd) and economical (when cooking small-scale for just a couple). I have dinners on the mind lately because I've been planning menus for upcoming weekends.

Next weekend I have a group of 8 ladies coming back for their third annual weekend with us. They'll have dinner both nights. Chocolate must be included on the Friday night! Standing orders!

Two weeks later I have another group of 8 ladies coming for their second annual weekend with us. Last year they had dinner just on the Saturday night. This year they want it both nights.

Both these groups are a lot of fun and we'll enjoy the weekend too. But hubby and I will be utterly spent by sunday check-out. Think carefully before adding dinners to your B&B plans. This may mean you need to pick a location where guests will have plenty of dining options even if you decide NOT to offer dinners.

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05/30/2008

My dh & I were at an event tonight & just had hors d'oeuvres.  I'm hungry reading about your dinners!!

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seashanty's picture
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06/02/2008

i wanted to do dinners during the winter as packages but no commercial kitchen, so nocando.

see, the two restaurants in the area close columbus day weekend. then the next nearest two have varying schedules which means, maybe we're open saturday nite, but maybe we won't be! we even had guests make reservations and then find the place closed.  talk about enraged, unhappy guests!  so guests wanted to book to stay here but didn't want to drive a minimum 1/2 hour each way on winter roads (icy) to get dinner. 

realizing it's a LOT of work, i had in mind a fixed, set menu just for guests and i really believe i could have got enough business for my little place to be open during the off season (that's a loooong off season - mid october through mid april).  our breakfast room is lovely and takes on a totally different look with low lights and tablecloths, as most places do.  oh well.  but only in winter because it is too hectic and exhausting in summer for me to do it all.

p.s.  as a guest, i LOVE being able to go down to dinner in the place i'm staying and then up to my room!  

 

 

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05/30/2008

We can't do dinners here & even if we could, I wouldn't.  I like to support our fellow business owners nearby - I refer folks to the locally owned restaurants within walking distance.  I don't encourage "chain" dining here, as I think you get a better feel for a place & its regionality by sampling the local fare. 

Also, it would just be too much for me to take on....

Morticia's picture
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05/22/2008

No dinners here, no license. If we could pull together a commercial kitchen and more space, we still wouldn't do it. I need time off every day. This is the con...if you can't get reliable help, you'll drown in the work. Even if we had full time cleaning help, I still want to sit down in the evening and have my own dinner.

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05/22/2008

I do dinners with some of my packages as I can only do for registered guests.

My dinner is pretty much a set menu and if you do not want that - go to one of our restaurants. We have the restaurant version of CHEERS - Italian-American food, large portions but the prices are not (Thursday all you want spaghetti just went up - to $4.99!), a Chinese that is reasonable, several pizza places, and a pizza place I do recommend that also has sandwiches and salads. We also have just about every chainwithin 10 miles north or south.

I make my own pasta which impresses most people. My menu is "bottomless" salad bowl (only one couple has ever emptied it) and French bread - oven to table; ring for the next course which is my manicotti done with a nice presentation on the plate (one guest described it as a manicotti log to another guest the next morning); ring for dessert which is usually ice cream or homemade chocolate pudding or birthday cake... and of course coffee, hot tea or iced, anda pitcher of water.

When I make my pasta, I make enough to do 16 to 20 manicottis and vac seal them and into the freezer. I package them in 2s and 4s so I can take them out, thaw, add sauce and ready to go. The first dinner pays for the batch and the rest of it is almost pure profit - a head of lettuce, a couple tomatoes, a cuke, carrots, a pepper, a can of olives, and whatever other "salad" veggies on hand plus a dessert. I make the bread also and breakfast the next morning is bread pudding using the second loaf of French bread.

It IS a lot of work but the bottom line looks great. That dinner has brought me repeat business.

Edited to say in WV, 6 rooms or less do not have to have the commercial kitchen. If you have that 7th room though.....

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05/22/2008

Never did dinners and most folks here in our town do not because you MUST have a commercial kitchen by VA state law to do so. That said, there are folks in VA who do dinners "under the table"  or because their health dept. doesn't really have an issue with it so they get away with it in some locations whereas others cannot.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
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05/22/2008

catlady wrote:

Never did dinners and most folks here in our town do not because you MUST have a commercial kitchen by VA state law to do so. That said, there are folks in VA who do dinners "under the table"  or because their health dept. doesn't really have an issue with it so they get away with it in some locations whereas others cannot.

I asked the health dept inspector this question one month ago.  He said we only needed a commercial kitchen to serve the public, not registered guests.  So we could do them here as me met all the other requirements. (in our county)

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05/22/2008

See that is the problem...everyone interprets the rules to their own minds. It is not true. In VA you can't serve dinners unless you have a commercial kitchen according to state rules...even if they are guests.  That is what I have been told by the head of the VA Dept of Health several years ago and I have not heard that has changed.

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
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05/22/2008

catlady wrote:

See that is the problem...everyone interprets the rules to their own minds. It is not true. In VA you can't serve dinners unless you have a commercial kitchen according to state rules...even if they are guests.  That is what I have been told by the head of the VA Dept of Health several years ago and I have not heard that has changed.

Yep. I was told I could do them, and while I had these two dudes here I asked again to confirm.  Yep, go ahead.  As long as it is not catering to the public.  We met the minimal rqmts - 3 sinks, handwashing station etc. Not commercial in my opinion, by a long shot!

JunieBJones (JBJ)'s picture
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05/22/2008

Dinner for guests?

The PO's here did dinners for mainly business guests.  I get requests quite often, but barely get my own family fed.

we have four restaurants within walking distance now, so that helps.

YellowSocks's picture
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05/22/2008

I don't think a lot of folks here do dinners, although I know Kathleen from Gillum House does, and I believe HappyJacks does soup or something on occasion.  Some live in states where they can barely serve breakfast, let alone dinner without all kinds of special permits and kitchens and who knows what else. (Yay Ohio, Boo Maine!)

I probably will eventually, but I haven't done any yet.  I did do a tea/luncheon thing for a last minute guest here for a funeral last winter.  (Remember the almost blizzard we had?  That's when it was!)  There's another B&B here in town that does very elegant teas.

I think the main cons are that people don't like to pay enough, that they're a lot of work, and that it can be hard to juggle them and check ins and having a life.  But if you're large enough for staff, or small enough to have the time to do it yourself, they can work.  And if you live in a place without significant dining at night, you almost have to do something.

=)
Kk.

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