Ask Brantley Smith, general manager of Carrollwood’s The Melting Pot, and he will tell you that the restaurant is a favorite with female customers.
“It’s definitely something that the ladies like,” said Smith. “And having the experience of cheese fondue and chocolate fondue – I don’t know of any other restaurant that does anything like we do.”
The restaurant runs a promotion called “The Ladies Night Out”, which runs every quarter for about one week. It is a four course meal served special at The Melting Pot.
“Not just from my experience here, but also from my experience in the dating world, I find that women just want to come here,” said Smith.
Smith says that men often would rather go to a steakhouse, not cook their own food. But there are also a good portion of men who enjoy the restaurant as well.
The Melting Pot has somewhat of a reputation for requiring customers to cook their own food, but this perception is not entirely true. Actually, only entrees can be cooked completely by the customer, skewering the meats and cooking them in the pot.
Although it happens infrequently, customers can request that a member of the staff walk them through the cooking process. A member of the wait staff will guide the customer through each step of the cooking process table side, specifying which meat will receive two minutes or how long a piece of fish may require in the pot.
Chris Dolphin, who has worked at The Melting Pot for 12 years, says that people usually come more for the experience than for the food, despite the delicious nature of the cuisine.
“While sitting at the table and cooking the food, you have time to interact and talk between bites as opposed to just shoveling it in,” said Dolphin. “It gives you the opportunity to interact with the person across from you versus nothing more than non-stop eating. If it’s someone you want to spend time with, this is a great place to do it.”
Dolphin says although it depends on the guests and their pace of eating, the average time for a table to finish their meal is about an hour and a half. A guest may cook one item at a time or three at a time. And in some cases all the ingredients may be dumped simultaneously into the steaming fondue pot.
Although reservations are not required for The Melting Pot, they are recommended, particularly for a Friday or Saturday evening, in which case Smith recommends calling a few days in advance.
Because The Melting Pot is a franchise, prices vary from city to city. For Tampa’s prices customers can visit http://www.meltingpot.com/tampa and click on “dinner menu” from the drop down list located on the right hand side of the page.
The Melting Pot’s food and beverage director, Shane Schaibly, who according to Dolphin has been with the company for over four years, served as lead pastry chef and sous chef for Café Ponte in Clearwater, Fla. and cooked at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach in Miami Beach prior to joining The Melting Pot.
All four Melting Pot restaurants in the Tampa Bay area are owned by Front Burner Brands, but the Carrollwood location handles a large portion of the training for franchisees, manager’s and kitchen managers, as well as the testing for menu items like The Big Night Out.
“We are a test store. So for example our Big Night Out America right now, fitting because July 4 is coming up, we test all four courses of that menu, make little tweaks to it over six month and then roll it out to the rest of the stores,” said Smith. “We just finished [a South American version of The Big Night Out], so everyone else is serving that, while we are working on “America."
Dolphin says that mind share cards are used to determine what concepts are most successful and those ideas are integrated, similar to test screenings for Hollywood movies.
As for what dishes are most popular at The Melting Pot, Dolphin says it is The Big Night Out, partially because it changes every six months.
“It’s something fresh a guest can come in and get every six months,” said Dolphin. “The last one we had was a South American them, this one is an American theme. It gives customers a chance to have all four courses marinatedin cheeses they wouldn’t ordinarily get to try.”
The Big Night Out meal has recently been through a Latin American, French, Island themed, Alpine and an Asian theme. It offers the creative forces behind The Melting Pot to be creative and push culinary preconceptions.
So, at any given time, Chef Schaibly will work on three different themes consecutively – answering questions on the roll out theme for the rest of the stores, getting feedback for the current theme and developing the newest theme that will be presented in the next six months.
Dolphin and Smith both agree that the best part of working at The Melting Pot are the opportunities to interrelate with the staff and customers.
“Our guests have such a great time here. They want to have fun with you,” said Smith.
Dolphin says that the unique serving dynamic of The Melting Pot allows the staff time to interact with the customers, cracking jokes and enjoying conversation. The restaurant boasts the patronage of many regulars who have developed a close relationship with Dolphin and the others.
When asked what most people do not know about The Melting Pot Dolphin is quick to respond.
“Whenever I talk to somebody outside of the restaurant I always hear that it’s so expensive. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Dolphin. “People can come in and get cheese and chocolate or just chocolate if they want to. Go see a movie and then come in for chocolate afterwards.”
The Melting Pot has a “Flick n Fondue” promotion that will run during July and August, which features two of either a bar beverage, a salad or a cheese and a movie ticket for the Veteran’s Theater valid at any AMC theater including Veterans 24 or Westshore 14, all for only $22.
From May 29 until July 3, customers can participate in “Treats for the Troops” by bringing in a one gallon bag of full of toiletries, non-canned food items and one dollar to cover the cost of shipping overseas, for which they will receive a PB & J Chocolate Fondue – a $16 value. For details, please visit http:// www.meltingpot.com/tampa/specials/free-chocolate-fondue.
Customers interested in current promotions and advance notice of upcoming promos can join The Club Fondue at http://www.meltingpot.com/club-fondue.aspx.
For more information, to view menu choices, make a reservation, check hours of operation or even obtain franchise information, visit http://www.meltingpot.com/tampa-bay.aspx and http://www.facebook.com/TheMeltingPotTampaBayArea.
*An earlier version of this story included information from the chef at The Melting Pot.