A recent New Yorker article by Atul Gawande cemented the fact that The Cheesecake Factory is a remarkable entity. This mall-parking-lot staple has the uncanny ability to maintain a menu of several hundred items ranging from wasabi-crusted ahi tuna to brûléed French toast, all of which are made in house and expedited from a kitchen where quality control is of utmost importance. Gawande sees the efficiency of Cheesecake’s model as something that the American medical industry should be taking notes from.
To ensure that every new location of The Cheesecake Factory is churning out the same monstrous menu as the other 160 locations, an intensive training period occurs before the doors open.
The latest outpost of The Cheesecake Factory opened this week outside Trenton in the Quaker Bridge Mall, giving us a chance to go behind the scenes, getting a firsthand look as the restaurant readied itself for flocks of mallgoers.
Two days of highly structured trial dining took place over the weekend. Guests were enthusiastically greeted at the door and handed a serious stack of menus as well as detailed instructions on how the meal was going to go down. Each guest was allowed one cocktail, an appetizer for the table, an entrée and a slice of cheesecake to share. If this seems a little stingy, it’s worth noting that the Cheesecake’s portion sizes are nearly as expansive as their menu.
Although the pre-opening menu is abbreviated compared to the regular phone book-sized tome, there was no shortage of choices. For example, 22 wines by the glass, 17 beers and 16 cocktails were available to give the newly hired bartenders plenty of practice mixing up Typhoon Punches and Kentucky Teas.
Apps were pretty standard Cheesecake fare: outsized Tex-Mex egg rolls and Buffalo blasts.
Things got interesting when it came time to choose mains. In order for the kitchen to get familiar with the vast offerings, each guest was given a menu with items different from all other guests at the table. Interested in the “Skinnylicious” salmon salad or the “Incredible” grilled eggplant sandwich? Sorry — if it wasn’t on your menu, no dice.
Over the course of an intensive 12-day training period, all 250 front- and back-of-house staffers sat through the same practice meals, tasting their way though every last menu item, making certain that when it comes time for diners to fill out their page-long comment cards, lofty Cheesecake expectations are not only met but exceeded.