Melting Pot Keeps the Interactive Vibe Cooking
Large-format plates are trending at full-service restaurants, and The Melting Pot—with over 100 units across the U.S.—has been offering guests the opportunity to communally cook and eat meals together for over 40 years. “It brings people together. Whether they know each other or not, they soon get to,” says Jason Miller, executive chef.
The menu is priced per person, but everything comes out at once to be cooked together on hot plates at each table. Previously, the traditional cooking style was bouillon, where vegetables and meat cooked in a broth, but, with a menu relaunch in August 2018, all The Melting Pot locations have since added a second way to cook—on a cast-iron grill.
The idea for the grill was sparked and tested in the Middle East, where the smells of live smoke pushed the brand forward in that area.
Miller saw the potential for the grills stateside immediately. It is more interactive, guests can actually see the food being cooked in front of them, and customers love to be the grill master, he says. Since the launch at the end of summer 2018, the grill style has taken over a lion’s share of the cooking styles the brand offers.
This new style of cooking also opens up the opportunity for guests who are vegetarian to cook in the same style safely with carnivores. And guests receive even more options along those lines with new locations now being built with two cooktops—before, the whole table had to decide on a single cooking style and collective fondue.
Taking into account the broad, intergenerational audience The Melting Pot serves, Miller advises restaurants interested in large-format menu development to avoid narrowing the restaurant’s guest base by creating dishes that include too many potential allergens or ingredients that may need to be modified.
He also stresses the need to test dishes. “For a single-plate item, there are only so many variables that could be considered,” he says, but when offering something to a group of people, those variables multiply. It is best to be prepared and streamlined, he says.
New locations and recent remodels in general are leaning more into the interactive character of the brand. Although no two locations are the same, the brand is building more open designs with larger casual/social bar elements and open cheese and chocolate kitchens where guests can experience more of the making of their fondue. The first few examples of this new design can be found at the brand’s locations in Red Bank, New Jersey and El Paso, Texas.
The Melting Pot’s cocktail menu, too, has been revamped. Primarily, the brand is shifting to more clean and simple ingredients, but the wine tasting areas—where guests can blend the perfect glass of wine—are also adding a new feature, the option to barrel age a cocktail.
The process takes 21 days, at which time the guests comes back to see their small oak barrel fitted with a spicket and enjoy the shareable cocktail with friends. “On the surface, you might think it's a novelty,” Miller says, “but it's actually something with a lot of integrity. It truly gets aged, and you definitely taste the difference. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback on it.”
The Melting Pot hopes options like the mini barrel aged cocktails and new grill cooktops will attract more guests to come in and engage—on premises—with one another and the brand.