There’s a hidden complexity to great bars and restaurants. Beyond just produce, striving for the best dining experience means daily consideration of presentation, personnel, and problem solving. Whether it’s refining the way a menu is crafted, a dish is plated or using clever point of sale (POS) to keep track of tables and what’s selling, the challenges – and their solutions – are forever evolving.
Five years is a lifetime in the fickle restaurant business. But that’s how long Bar Liberty has stood on a moody stretch of Johnston St in Fitzroy as a beacon to wine lovers and dinner dates the city over. For that entire run, Casey Wall has been its executive chef. Following stints at Rockwell and Sons and Cutler & Co., Wall is well-placed to offer tips on how restaurants must evolve and innovate to stay on top of their game. We asked him for an insight into his approach at Bar Liberty.
For Wall, the key to streamlining a kitchen starts with being prepared ahead of time. Where once food orders were a matter of gut feelings and guesswork, these days technology is foundational. Bar Liberty uses Square for Restaurants to keep track of sales and generate reports on which dishes are selling or not. It means ordering stock for the kitchen can be done with precision. “We can see very specific reports of what’s moving out of the kitchen,” says Wall. “If someone’s like, ‘How many portions of this do I need?’ you can say ‘I think you need twenty’ and be pretty confident about it. It eliminates a lot of guesswork and helps with food costing because you’re not wasting food or carrying extra product you don’t need.”
Knowing how much you’re likely to sell at the prep stage means sourcing the best ingredients and, as much as possible, controlling what goes to waste. Bar Liberty are mostly involved with smaller, local producers who supply directly to them, like Somerset Heritage Products in Seymour. “They’re amazing,” says Wall. “Right now they have peppers and tomatoes and lettuces and herbs. It’ll move very soon into pumpkins and kales, broccoli and brassicas, things of that nature. We use a lot of their stuff at Capitano and Bar Liberty.”
In the kitchen
For Bar Liberty, the parts of the operation that help the kitchen are tools like seat mapping, inventory reports and the POS. Inside the kitchen, all the prep means a greater level of control and consistency. One way in which Bar Liberty has changed tack over the years is offering a set menu - a favourite with customers, and a great way to achieve consistency in the kitchen.
“We didn’t offer a set menu when we opened but we’ve done it for about four years now,” says Wall. “It’s a pretty large chunk of our orders now, people coming in and ordering our set menu. That makes things a little more streamlined. That’s something we drive ourselves on, is consistency. If a supply of some dish is limited, we wouldn’t put it on the set menu, because it is a large portion of what gets ordered.”
With a focus on shared dishes, Wall felt dining habits in 2021 might signal a change. “We were kind of worried,” he says. “We weren’t sure how it was going to go with people coming in after Covid restrictions and sharing dishes. But it seems like it hasn’t been an issue. Because if you’re coming in to eat with some people, you’re probably pretty familiar with them.”
That means it’s essentially been business as usual for Bar Liberty in terms of dish presentation, and a focus on constructing dishes that make sense to the eater. Mess with the presentation too much, and suddenly the dish just doesn’t work. “If something in the dish is quite rich, you’d need some sort of acidic component to neutralise it,” says Wall. “Let’s say you have a piece of pork belly and some sort of like, pickled quince. If you ate all the quince at once, followed by the pork belly, the dish wouldn’t make much sense. You’d be having something aggressively flavoured at the front, then all the fatty pork at the back.”
If there’s one conspicuous touch of modern tech at every bar and restaurant now, it’s the QR code. Checking in is a given, but many are using the codes for digital menus, ordering and payments. Bar Liberty is still using printed menus and table service, with most of their tech subtly humming in the background. Wall and the team use the Square for Restaurants POS for everything from seeing wage and food cost reports to table mapping - a digital display of where diners are seated and how the tables are laid out. He says it’s made running things a whole lot easier. “The biggest thing would be the daily reports for how the kitchen works, in terms of tracking the sales,” says Wall. “But we also use Square to balance wages and make sure our wage costs are in and our food costs are in.” It means that by the time guests are paying their bill, the team already knows what’s likely to work on the menu tomorrow.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Square.