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Friday, March 25, 2011

Billy Allin goes trend-spotting

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  • Green Olive Media
I recently wrote a piece for Fenuxe, a biweekly gay magazine, on trends in food presentation. It was what I call "haiku length" — 350 words — so I had a ton of related material left over from email chats with some of the city's most creative chefs.

One of those is Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale in Decatur. Following are his descriptions of current dining trends, his own philosophy and customer expectations. (I'll be featuring other chefs in future posts.)

Trends: I think currently the overall trend in dining is “casualing” — a made-up word. Very important word, though. Dining is an experience that entails good food, good/slightly refined service, and a good, comfortable, accepting environment in which to have it. Also, guests are demanding to know the lineage of what’s on their plate more often. A much more concrete trend is wine pricing. In general, markups are coming down on quality wines, offering guests a better wine experience at a fairer price.

Philosophy: Our philosophy as it pertains to the aforementioned, especially in Decatur, is a hope to exceed the guest’s expectations. At the current location I think we surprise many guests with the quality of the food and service, given the surroundings (though we really like them).

We all work really hard in the kitchen to purchase the best ingredients and either transform them or present them in a way that highlights their attributes, especially our vegetables. We use an overwhelming majority of local vegetables in our cooking. We truly are a vegetable-driven restaurant. This also goes for our beverage service. I work very hard at keeping an affordable and unique wine list together. Our servers work really hard at being less salespeople and more guides.

Customer expectations: That’s a hard one because everyone that walks in the door is different. Sometimes people like big portions and we have a hard time satisfying that, as we feel we serve healthy and adequate portions and we get a lot of positive feedback based on that. Sometimes people want to be completely blown away and I think we can do that but in today’s restaurant world many guests come fully "loaded" with research and an idea of what they want.

What we try to do is give them a Cakes & Ale experience. This entails what I mentioned above as well as a commitment by the guest to let go and let us be a guide to a meal. In the end, a table of guests just wants to have a good time.

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