Timing is of the essence at First & Hope Supper Club in Los Angeles.
This year-old restaurant, which opened April 15, 2010, caters largely to a crowd of theatergoers, so often needs to provide a fine-dining experience in just 45 minutes.
Vice president of operations, Steve Springer, wasn’t aware of the speed the restaurant would have to operate under when it opened. Consequently, he and his colleagues have retooled the concept to provide what the local clientele is seeking.
“The first menu we had was incredibly detailed,” he says. “We even had a pastry department with four or five people in it and there was so much detail, so many little things, happening in the food. So we retooled to still provide a fine-dining concept, but it has to come out in a very timely manner. If you don’t provide food on time customers can be furious.”
To make that menu simpler, the baking process was streamlined. Instead of making several types of bread from scratch, one type of bread is now multi-functional—brioche can be used as straightforward brioche, as a bun for a cheeseburger, or in desserts, for example.
And the restaurant continues to focus on high-quality ingredients, which saves on prep, Springer says. “We’ve realized that when you have great ingredients they don’t need a lot of prep and don’t need a lot to go with them. Ingredients are the star of the show. That’s where we’ve found the most efficiency.”
And, about 30 percent of the menu items were eliminated, so prep work could be much more efficient.
On top of changes to the menu, First & Hope has installed a kitchen display system, similar to the type you see in a fast food restaurant, Springer says. The system charts the time the order comes in and each order has a countdown to ensure everything happens in a timely manner. This not only keeps the kitchen on time, but also the expediter, Springer says.
First & Hope has three “curtain cops” each night. These are three managers who patrol the restaurant floor watching every table and ensuring their meal has finished in time for their theatrical performance. Each theater has a different curtain time so the restaurant employees have to be vigilant.
The curtain cops aren’t the only one checking into timing. First & Hope’s hostesses have been trained to ask customers which show they are seeing, but they do so conversationally, asking about the show, rather than the time, to put guests at ease.
Once the guests are seated, the hostess prints out a soigné slip, which is given to the server, the curtain cops, and sometimes the bar tender, so several people are ensuring customers make it to their show on time.
Most of the restaurant’s business mainly comes in a big rush, and Springer says they could serve 200 people before 7 p.m. Unfortunately, there’s not the option to stagger seating. “It’s almost like a banquet but you have to make sure it doesn’t seem like it,” he says.
There’s no letting up on the timing, Springer says. “A year in, we still have to watch it like a hawk.”
First & Hope serves modern American comfort food. “We are fine dining, but we have some humor in our menu,” Springer says. For example, the food is often dished up in an unusual manner: The mac and cheese might have truffles or lobster in it; and it's all about the cheese—it comes with some raw cheese on the side so customers can taste it both raw and melted. The mac and cheese also comes, “with a flavor enhancement like a honeycomb or some raw almonds and sometimes has different toppings like soufflé. It all has a nod to childhood,” Springer says.
Other dishes include a New York strip loin with house-made Tator Tots and steak sauce and buttermilk fried chicken with cheddar waffle and maple-sour cream.