Mike von Massow
Dandylion restaurant, Toronto: A choice for everyone
I am fascinated by restaurants. We’re spending more of our food dollar there (both as North Americans generally and my empty nest family specifically) and they play an important role in shaping our perceptions of food and, therefore, our subsequent choices. Restaurants are also small businesses which struggle with low margins and interesting labour dynamics. That’s what makes me a restaurant geek and drives me to write about interesting visits. Last Wednesday I was invited to join a friend at Dandylion on Queen West in Toronto.
This is a small restaurant with about thirty seats and a wide-open kitchen. One website has ranked it number 6 in the top 100 restaurants in Canada. However, this particular blog is not a restaurant review – it’s a post on my observations – but you will get a sense of my opinion. So here we go.
I was intrigued by the menu. It was limited. Three appetizers, three mains, and three desserts. I understand that this menu has evolved but it currently offers one vegetarian option, one pescatarian option (fish), and one meat option for both appetizers and entrees. My understanding is that when it opened, the menu skewed even heavier to vegetarian/pescatarian. I expect the introduction of some meat options was driven by demand. There are several vegan restaurants on the next block so it may simply be a differentiation strategy. There is clearly an increase in the demand for vegetarian options generally but there remain many diners who prefer a meat protein and restaurants need to reflect that diversity within groups. Limited choice but a choice for everyone. Restaurants like vegetarian options too as the costs of proteins have increased significantly putting a squeeze on margins. In this case the “meat” option for the appetizer was pork and for the entrée was guinea fowl.
The limited menu may be a way to manage in a busy kitchen. It also reduces the risk of food waste. With fewer choices the kitchen has less risk with inventory of ingredients or pre-prepared elements. There are many ways that restaurants can reduce waste and this is one of them. Dandylion didn’t mention food waste but cost is a huge deal in restaurants, so it has to be on their mind. There is also benefit in doing a few things very well.
The kitchen is completely open to the dining room and was a joy to watch. They were busy the whole time I was there but they were quiet and in control. It is amazing to see professional cooks at work.
I have done research on tipping in restaurants. I always ask about tipping policy and specifically tip sharing. The two servers informed me that they split all the tips evenly (after giving a share to the kitchen). This meant that, while we had a primary server, the other server made sure to clear our finished plates if ours was busy. There was no competition as everyone shared tips. There was a clear focus on quality. If food was ready and both servers were busy, the kitchen ran the food to the table. I remain convinced that at the very least, pooling tips, and at most, getting rid of them, is a way to improve the restaurant experience for most customers.
I enjoyed my food and the conversation with my friend. The restaurant geek in me enjoyed watching this well choreographed organization with a unique strategy most of all.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. "Dandylion restaurant, Toronto: A choice for everyone”. Food Focus Guelph (59), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, September 24th, 2019.