The Rise of the Restaurant Parting Gift
Eleven Madison Park
At New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Swiss chef Daniel Humm wants guests to end the night feeling connected to their three Michelin-starred meals—and to him as a chef. The granola guests receive at the end of their dinners is supposed to be a personal touch without any pretense. “I've been eating granola for as long as I can remember,” he says. Guests are meant to enjoy the gift at home the morning after their luxurious meals. “At the restaurant, we always talk about how we can make people feel like they are entering our home,” says Will Guidara, who co-owns the restaurant. “When we think about the best way to end a meal at a friend's home, it's to receive something thoughtful for the next day.”
At Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas, another three Michelin star-restaurant, parting gifts are a nod to a simpler time—before guests used social media to remember (and share heavily filtered pictures of) their meals. “In the days prior to camera phones and digital images, the restaurant would share a take-home, finished booklet of photos that offered guests the opportunity to share their experiences with friends and family while simultaneously allowing them to relive their experiences,” says Sebastian Dumonet, the Director of Restaurants. Today, guests leave with a restaurant booklet, a copy of the menu with pairing notes, and a raspberry pistachio pound cake. Dumonet ties the practice to an established trend in French restaurant culture, noting that “parting gifts have almost become expected in high-end French restaurants.”
The French Laundry + Per Se
People journey from far and wide to tiny Yountville, CA for Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry—so the restaurant does its best to make the trek worth it, giving guests travel-ready gifts of chocolate and the restaurant’s signature shortbread at the end of a meal. “Whereas other giveaways may not last long, ours travel well and keep for at least a week,” says executive Pastry Chef Elwyn Boyles. The cookies come in a reusable decorative box, which according to Boyles, is “an homage to the biscuit tins commonly used in Great Britain” (his native land). People often hold onto this keepsake long after their Yountville pilgrimage is over—though the shortbread disappears quickly. Guests at Keller’s NYC restaurant Per Se get this after-dinner gift as well.
At L’Appart in Lower Manhattan, the finale to the Michelin-starred chef’s table tasting menu—created by Nicolas Abello, an alumnus of Daniel and Pierre Gagnaire—is a box of truffles from Brooklyn’s Tumbador Chocolate Company. This gift, according to headwaiter George Thomas, ties in with a larger goal for the dining experience at L’Appart: the owners want to create a cozy atmosphere, reminiscent of a friend’s house, for diners. “If customers are able to take home a gift, then the restaurant is saying, ‘You're a member of our family.’” At L’Appart, the parting gift is an essential part of thoughtful service—but also a reminder of comfort, familiarity, and the leftovers you always take home after a dinner party.
Pineapple and Pearls
Aaron Silverman’s new place on Capitol Hill—which earned two stars in the recently announced DC Michelin Guide—has a double life: coffee shop by day, fine dining establishment by night. It makes sense, then, that the after-dinner goody bag is a nod to the restaurant’s “day job”—complimentary pastries and cold-brew from the coffee bar. This parting gift, like so many of them, brings guests back down to earth at the end of the night. After an esoteric, conceptual dinner, how about some coffee and donuts? Pineapple and Pearls is one of many restaurants to play with this high/low concept, and it’s delicious.
Dominique Ansel Kitchen
At U.P.—the dessert tasting pop-up at Dominique Ansel Kitchen in Greenwich Village—parting gifts are the grand finale to a series of whimsical surprises. With his rotating themed menu Ansel, the former pastry chef at Daniel, encourages people to play with their food: In a recent dish, guests were supposed to dig up “gold nuggets” of bread pudding buried under espresso and hazelnut “dirt”—which was then brewed into pour-over coffee to take home. Other unexpected gifts include floating treats, like snacks and fortunes concealed within helium balloons. At the end of the night, diners get to take a little bit of the magic home with them.
At The Dutch, Chef Andrew Carmellini and Pastry Chef Summer Bailey always send diners off in style with a bag of sweets, like house-made caramels. For Carmellini and Bailey, a parting gift is all about gratitude: “People don’t have to come to The Dutch to eat,” says Bailey. “Parting gifts are the new handwritten thank-you card.” She notes that the gifts almost always come as a surprise—“in a good way”—and people are charmed by their share-ability. “I have seen the little box, snugly packaged and sealed with our logo, on social media—with nothing but positive comments.” A sweet treat for the diners and social publicity for the restaurant—that’s the power of saying “thank you.”
At Brennan’s in New Orleans, Executive Pastry Chef Brett Gauthier gives guests take-home boxes of pâte de fruits, bite-sized gummies flavored with the fruits and spirits of the season, as parting gifts that reflect the flavors of the cuisine and the history of the city. For special times of year, Gauthier tailors his candies to the occasion—as with the Mardi Gras collection, which features Port + Cranberry, Green Apple, and Meyer Lemon gelées. At a restaurant with such longevity—it’s now celebrating its 70th birthday—parting gifts are becoming a new tradition.
At his Michelin-starred Masseria, D.C. Chef Nick Stefanelli draws inspiration from Pugliese masserie, the farmsteads where his distant relatives would host scores of guests for rustic dinners. His parting gifts exemplify this same Italian hospitality, with seasonal Italian specialties that highlight religious and cultural holidays. For example, this holiday season, Masseria’s Feast of the Seven Fishes will end with a gift of panettone—the Milanese fruit loaf synonymous with an Italian Christmas. Like many other chefs, Stefanelli’s parting gift reflects his restaurant’s cuisine, traditional values of hospitality, and the quintessential dishes “that shaped his palate as a child.”
At Chicago’s two Michelin-starred Acadia, Chef Ryan McCaskey’s cuisine is an ode to the rocky coasts of Maine, Quebec, and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. And their parting gifts—which include a specially designed postcard and artisanal kitchen goods (cutting boards, cheese knives) handcrafted in The Pine Tree State—are a natural extension of that culinary love letter. McCaskey sees the gifts as a way for the restaurant to transcend time and space. Just as a meal at the restaurant can transport diners to the American Northeast, a parting gift can transport them back to their meals. Beyond the philosophical angle, though, a gift just makes sense to McCaskey: “It fits with the values of the restaurant,” he says. “We value hospitality and excellence at the highest levels.”