Something new for rural areas
- medium budget
- the countryside
- in trouble
Alcohol abuse is dangerous for health. To consume with moderation.
For your health, eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
There are, of course, plenty of restaurants in the country-side. Yes, but what sort? Traditional restaurants that are often based on local or regional cuisine, gastronomic restaurants which often eke out a living, and the inevitable farmhouse inns whose wooden benches hold no comfort for our behinds! A few pizzerias, creperies or Chinese restaurants break the monotony and even do quite a good business, for the want of something better. I have absolutely nothing against local or regional cuisine or farmhouse inns, but as part of my family live in a rural area I know they would like a little more variety. Think about it, if you live in the South West of France you don’t want to eat only cassoulets and duck confits! If you like in rural Scotland you’re not going to eat only haggis! Local specialties are all very well now and again and no doubt they delight the tourists but when you actually live there you can grow tired of the same thing.
There is a young population and a working population in the country too and they too are just as up to date with what’s going on as city dwellers. Imagine a young chef having to choose between a lifetime of making the same dishes over and over again in the local restaurant or migrating to the big smoke. What a drudge…
So, I gave a great deal of thought to the sort of restaurant best-suited to rural areas. The concept must be modern but not excessively so. The food must be of wide appeal so that everyone is satisfied. You need to cater for families, for business people, for a romantic dinner for two, for groups of young people. Another point, the ingredients required must be readily available even in places well off the beaten track.
And here is what I came up with. When choosing a location you need to calculate the distance by car to your catchment area. I would say you’ll need at least 15,000 inhabitants within a 20 minute radius of your restaurant. 20,000 would be even better.
Rather than start from scratch it would be cheaper to take over a flagging business or buy a closed up restaurant, which, alas are commonly found throughout the country side. You’ll need to seat between 65 and 85, you’re bound to be full up at weekends. Ensure that about 40 cars can park easily.
For the interior decoration get rid of anything remotely farmhouse kitchen. No rustic light fittings either. Use bright shades of grey and red perhaps. You won’t need to spend much on decoration to achieve a stylish, cosy and comfortable atmosphere.
Now for the menu. Leave all the local specialties to those who specialize in that area. There are, however, two exceptions:
Of you are located in a cattle-rearing region you must, of course, use the local meat, and if you are in a wine or beer producing region you will serve the locally produced drinks.
Avoid industrially produced food in your kitchen as much as possible. It is easily detectable and rumors spread in the country faster than anywhere else.
Let’s deal with drinks first. I recommend that you have a good cocktail menu and learn how to make them. Cocktail bars are few and far between in the country so you will find they are popular both at the start and the finish of each meal. Include a few alcohol-free cocktails too. Keep a short wine list of decent wines at reasonable prices. Propose wine by the glass too.
Although not at all necessary in this concept you may decide to compile a first course menu. If so, keep it brief. The two main ideas I have for the main course abolish the need for a starter. My ideas are as follows: a wide range of mixed salads and a wide variety of bruschettas.
Both will be available in two sizes, a small portion which may replace a starter and a larger size to be eaten as a main course. I won’t go into detail on either dish as you’ll be spoilt for choice in the specialized cookery books but when choosing your recipes bear in mind the availability of certain ingredients. Your salads should be very generous in size, and so should your bruschettas, the larger portion being three times the size of the smaller portion.
A bruschetta is made using a large slice of French sourdough country bread or ciabiatta bread which is spread with tomato sauce and put briefly under the grill. Then you add whatever toppings you like before returning the bruschetta under the grill. Make sure you can find good quality bread, or make it yourself. Your large bruschettas should be served on a board, pre-sliced. All you need to do is find exactly the right size of your bruschettas.
Here are some of my personal favorite recipes for bruschettas:
-add goats cheese, replace under the grill. When melted, drizzle with olive oil and top with a few rinsed + dried anchovies and capers.
-grilled aubergines with Roquefort or gorgonzola and when melted, top with wafer-thin slices of Italian cured ham.
-duxelles (chopped mushrooms, shallots and herbs cooked in butter and cream) with parmesan and when it comes out from under the grill top with a few slices of smoked magret.
-tomato sauce and black olives and when it comes out of the grill, top with one or two fillets or red mullet (bones removed). Put back under the grill for 30-60 seconds then drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with fleur de sel (hand harvested sea salt).
-smoked Scamorza (Italian cheese). When melted, top with bresaola (dried and salted Italian beef) and drizzle with olive oil.
Now for the meat dishes, again stick to two main ideas. The first is a short menu of grilled meat, I suggest rib-eye steak in 2 sizes, rump steak, prime rib steak for two, lamb chops (a choice of 3 or 3). The highlight of the menu will be succulent T-bone steak. All your meat will be served with chips, baked potatoes or salad and the usual sauces and condiments.
The second idea is a hamburger menu because the hamburger always sells well and when well-made it’s nothing like those horrible burgers found in fast-food. I suggest you propose the classic hamburger, a bacon cheeseburger, a cheeseburger, a spicy version of the classic and a goats cheese or blue cheese version.
Serve the burger open a toasted bread with lettuce, slices of tomato and red onion and chips.
You could also have a short tartare menu.
Now for fish. You could propose shrimp on a brochette (skewer), a fish tartare, a seafood carpaccio, grilled tuna fish, shark or swordfish all served with sauces, rice or chips or baked potatoes.
Stick to the popular, well-loved desserts such as tiramisu, brownies, cheese-cake, bread and butter pudding (use brioche) and above all, stock a good selection of ice-cream.
Now let’s talk about advertising and your pricing policy. Your prices must remain reasonable. It’s worth noting that a T-bone steak, a rib-eye steak, seafood or even some of the ingredients used for your salads and bruschettas are expensive and the customer is well aware of that and will be willing to pay accordingly. Country fold can afford it just as much as city dwellers!
If you rent isn’t too high (and the chances are it won’t be in the country side), I would estimate your break-even point will be 50 meals served per day, using a team of 6 people. That’s why your premises must be big enough to accommodate full houses at weekends, this is crucial for your turnover.
Propose a special lunch-time menu and, of course, a children’s menu. A good way to attract a clientele on week nights (from Tuesday to Thursday) is to give a free dessert to all your customers. You could also think about a free kiddies’ meal for every adult meal ordered (one night per week).
To advertise your opening, have leaflets delivered 3 times over a 2 month period throughout your catchment area. An ad on local radio or in the local press would also work well. At any rate, word of mouth is something that works pretty well in the country!
So there you are, you have the necessary information to open a modern restaurant in the countryside which will no doubt become part of local life, a meeting place for all sorts of people including those who are just passing through.