‘Twas the month before Christmas, when all through the kitchen there was intense preparation with the music blaring. The customers were sleeping all snug in their beds while visions of six-course meals danced in their heads. Large group bookings, increased spending, free-flowing wine, beers, Champagne, insert-tipple-of-your-fancy-here, never-ending lunches and sheer indulgence. Welcome to the pure unadulterated madness that is Christmas in the restaurant industry.
Restaurant kitchens are always hives of concentrated frantic energy, but during December the speed cycle kicks in. It’s currently at full spin where I work, The Dairy in Clapham. How does this madness of Christmas affect our chefs working behind the scenes? One of the most noticeable differences is the merging of lunch and dinner services. After the final few lunch customers finish their petit fours (doughnuts with orange curd since you asked), they hold the door open for the first dinner guests. We have a busy service throughout the year, but at Christmas the number of staff parties increases massively. We see a rise in lunch bookings, too, as people look to treat themselves. The festive period means indulgence and everyone likes to eat out; if you walk into any restaurant during December you can see this straight away. For our industry this increased custom is a vital part of our intake, although it comes with additional pressures and can test a team’s true strength.
A longer lunch service can have a particularly strong impact on the pastry section with the pastry chef waiting, spoon in hand, for the last customer to choose dessert (who quite often will choose all of them!). It’s important that the kitchen team pitches in during a longer service and the ethos of our head chef Richard Falk is that everyone stays to help with pastry. In The Dairy this applies to all sections, with all chefs being cross-trained so they can help each other out in preparation for service. Richard tries to make sure everyone in the kitchen works the same hours during December and has the same amount of time off as during the year. A lot of us work sixteen hour days, so the working week is a long one.