Saturday, 14 April 2012

Intelligent Menu Design: How a "Smart Menu" can ignite sales, profits, and your brand - Food

Now is a great time to review the performance of your restaurant menu. Famed New York restaurants like Jean-Georges and Aquavit have launched popular fixed-priced menus. Applebee's is now offering two courses for a party of two for just $20.00. With it's own twist on value, The Cheesecake Factory, recently launched a small plate menu with items ranging from $3.95 to $6.50. If you haven't already considered leveraging your menu to drive sales, lower costs, or strengthen your position; what are you waiting on?

I have created and launched new menus for national brands like Olive Garden and Applebee's, Cruise Lines like Royal Caribbean Cruises, independent restaurant start-ups, and corporate dining companies. When done correctly, a new menu can dramatically improve your business. In fact, a well executed menu launch can increase guest traffic, strengthen or reposition your brand, create buzz, and improve employee morale. Not to mention it can allow you to take advantage of emerging food trends and purchasing opportunities.

My menu development team and I helped repositioned the Olive Garden brand by importing dishes and cooking techniques directly from Tuscany, Italy. We launched sales enhancing promotional menus for Applebee's. At Royal Caribbean, we reversed five consecutive years of flat food satisfaction ratings and saved the company millions of dollars in food cost, a long the way. On each occasion "Smart Menu" principles were at the core of the successes.

The four smart menu development filters that I will cover originated as a means of integrating input from various corporate players into a single menu development process. Once the process had been proven and prefect, I realized the four filters could be used in any menu development situation. I have used them with enormous success every since. The four filter that any successful menu change must past through are: 1) The Brand Filter, 2) The Culinary Innovation Filter, 3) The Operations Filter, and 4) The Financial Filter

The Brand Filter exist to ensure that there is absolutely perfect alignment between the brand strategy and the menu strategy. In dysfunctional companies the brand vision and the menu vision is often at odds. In the worst examples, neither is aligned with market opportunities. I have seen restaurant companies, large and small, wander into the menu wilderness because the brand and menu strategies did not mesh. For example, McDonald's tinkered with their menu almost non-stop until they finally landed on a core menu, complemented by fresh salads and healthy sides for children. All great menu development initiatives must start with crystal clear brand parameters.

In regards to the Culinary Innovation Filter, Culinary Research & Development as a organized discipline has exploded over the past ten years. The Culinary Institute of America (My alma mater) now has an entire department devoted to training chefs in this area.

The focal point of the most Culinary R&D has become the "Development Process". Although I am a huge supporter of process driven development, I offer two notes of caution to senior executives and decision makers. First, most of the process charts that I have seen are far to complicated. If your company's culinary development process can't be explained to a fifth grader using a single slide, it to complicated and costly.

Secondly, remember GIGO, garbage in garbage out. The best conceived process does nothing to ensure culinary innovation. Your process, at best, is an excellent funnel. It can sort the great ideas from the good ones. If only uninventive and uncreative ideas go into a culinary development process, don't be surprised if little value comes out. If a lack of culinary innovation is your concern, the goods news is that there are reliable methods to spark innovation and numerous ways to out source it as well. The bottle line with Culinary Innovation is, you must bring something new to the party if you want guest to be "Wowed".

The Operations Filter exist to ensure that dishes created in a tested environment can be consistently reproduced under normal restaurant environment. I will offer two important tips in this area. To begin, test under normal conditions. If you run a multi-unit company don't test exclusively in your best performing units, and then, wonder why all your average units struggle upon final roll-out. Likewise, below average units can derail a potentially good menu.

Secondly, be certain to conduct test during peak periods. Test conducted during non-peak period can fail to highlight basic problems with equipment, general capacity or other resource. In any case, it is self-defeating to create a new menu that can be consistently produced for guests at a high level of quality.

The Financial Filter is the most important of all. Determining what impact a new menu will have on your bottle line is critical. This part of the process must be monitored at the highest level of a large company or the owner of a small business. I advise having a single individual be in charge of the menu's financial model, calculating the cost of all recipes entered into the menu model. Field testing the menu's financial model throughout the process. Invariably, with any significant menu change, there will be unpredictable outcomes. The sooner the outcomes are properly determined the sooner the menu can be implemented with confidence that it will have a positive effect on sales and profits.

Now I'll admit that developing a great new menu is no simple task. However, following the steps that I have outlined will ensure the results well worth the effort. Obviously, the process can be dramatically scaled down for small operations and tailored to specific need. For example, it is perfectly feasible to create and test a dynamite new signature entree for a single unit over the coarse of a weekend applying all four filters. Which is to say, don't be deterred by the road to smart menu success. Remember, the benefits are well worth the efforts.

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