Menu Innovation – Do You Have a Process?
The ability to innovate is a critical factor in long-term success in any business. As an industry become more competitive, it’s the only way to go on the offensive and take business before the competition does. Over the past several years, the foodservice industry has become much more competitive – declining consumer spending and rising food costs have put unprecedented pressure on restaurants in all segments. And just like in other highly competitive industries, successful foodservice operators innovate, and dying ones don’t.
Some of the foodservice operators we meet with are nervous about menu innovation. Big restaurant chains have whole departments that spend all day innovating – how can an independent compete? But what the big chains don’t have that an independent operator does have are flexibility and speed, which are much more valuable in the innovation process.
Which begs the question – do you have a menu innovation process?
If you don’t, we’ll lend you one.
Menu Innovation Process
Set aside time to brainstorm and create new ideas. Don’t worry about whether they’ll work or not, just get them out. Borrow ideas from magazines. Look for inspiration from ethnic cuisines, cheap restaurants, expensive restaurants, wherever. The point is to generate ideas and get them out before you judge them. Flesh the ideas out a little bit with suggested pricing, costs, and merchandising ideas.
During the feasibility step, you want to throw out ideas that “won’t work”. It is important how you define what “works” means. For this step, it means executable (the concept is easy enough to prepare that your existing kitchen staff can do it), financially sound (the selling price makes sense for your target customers and the food cost is low enough to ensure an appropriate gross profit per serving), and brand appropriate (the idea fits your restaurant concept. It should push the envelope, but not completely confusing to your target customers). Knock out any ideas that don’t make it past all three criteria.
Pick an idea and run with it. Find a way to introduce the item. A great way is through the Limited Time Offer or as a weekly special. If the customer response meets your goals, maybe it makes the menu full time. Maybe it’s a flop, and your cancel it outright. Either way, you start the process all over again.
This process doesn’t guarantee winners every time, but that isn’t the point. The point is to make sure that your operation is constantly innovating, constantly refreshing itself. The alternative is to die a slow death – or in some cases, not so slow.
One last recommendation – there are tremendous resources at your disposal – make sure you use them. From manufacturers like Vanee to foodservice brokers to distributor marketing and culinary staff. And look internally as well – your own servers, hosts, cooks, and customers have ideas.
If you would like some help putting in place a menu innovation process, please contact us and we’d be more than happy to help.